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Syracuse football: Why the Orange will finish with every record in 2018

What if I told you that everyone’s right, and wrong, and that we’re all purple blots that communicate through purple blot burps?

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Central Connecticut State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Guess what, lunatic? You’re right! You, the guy that spent countless hours on the internet machine writing about how the Syracuse Orange will finish 8-4 in 2018, fighting in comments sections and screaming death threats on Twitter? You’re right! And you, the guy that thinks that the Orange are destined for a 4-8 record because Dino is a year away from really cutting loose?You’re right, too! And you, the guy that thinks that Syracuse is going to throttle Clemson by 50 in Death Valley because reasons? You’re unstable, but you’re also right, too! In fact, all you big ol’ dummies — and Lord knows we get some big ol’ dummies that read this site — are right! Everyone’s right!

Here’s the thing: If you play the season enough times, replaying the games over and over again until the universe collapses upon itself and turns us all into purple blots communicating with each other through purple blot burps, you’ll see everything. You’ll see the Orange beat Notre Dame and lose to Wagner. You’ll see Syracuse make the College Football Playoff and get paired with Kent State in the semifinals. You’ll see the Orange finish 6-6, losing every game in which they were favored and winning every game in which they were a ‘dog. There is an iteration timeline for everything — all kinds of bonkers stuff can happen, at least once. The way the season actually unfolds is only one specific instance of the infinite number of ways that Syracuse’s season could develop.

This is why I look forward to the Why Syracuse will finish . . . series every year. It’s an exercise that infuriates the most boneheaded of the Orange’s fan base, which is always fun to watch because internet meltdowns are a special kind of human condition that deserves its own place in a fancy museum, but also embarks on a voyage toward the idea of multiples of universes. There is no singular timeline but rather a range of possibilities to consider, that range putting survey markers in the ground for expectations setting. Everyone’s right (and wrong) to some degree, but there is a range that seems to make the most sense. That’s what we tried to show throughout the week: If you believe in absolutes, you’re a goober.

NCAA Football: ACC Media Days Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

To assist in platforming that idea, I looked at a couple of football computing machines (the same robots that will some day murder and enslave us all) to get some insight into where they think Syracuse will finish the year from a win-loss perspective. Specifically, I looked at Bill Connelly’s S&P projections, Sagarin’s preseason ratings, Massey’s preseason ratings, and ESPN’s FPI preseason ratings and projections. Using these football computing machines isn’t an effort in saying “This is how Syracuse will finish the year, jerkface!” Rather, it’s an examination into the likelihood of the Orange’s final reality as of this particular moment in time — it’s assessing all those alternate timelines, including the one where we’re all goo in space, and spitting out responses as to which ones look the most likely to occur.

Football Computer Consensus: 5-7 is the Early Mark

Without getting into the dirty details that nobody cares about, I ran a Monte Carlo simulation of the projections of all four football computing machines. The simulation was run 10,000 times and I needed to make a couple of assumptions regarding the non-public underlying detail of each of the football computing machines. It all came out tightly aligned with the publicly available information, so I’m not worried about immaterial differences.

After running these simulations and blending the output from the football computing machines, Syracuse is projected to close 2018 with a 5-7 record. There’s an 86% chance that the Orange finish between 3-9 and 6-6, and there’s a 45% chance that Syracuse ends the season with a 5-7 or 6-6 mark. If you’re thinking about bowl eligibility and the absolutely dumb six-win standard necessary to compete in the postseason, there’s a 27% probability that the Orange have six wins or better after facing Boston College.

The bell curve here isn’t going to make the I Want Wins and Now! Society of Angry Internet Commenters happy, but I don’t think the simulation is all that dreadful. Consider the following:

  1. There are two games in which Syracuse is projected to be in a toss-up scenario in the blended model: Western Michigan and North Carolina. (Vegas likes Syracuse in Kalamazoo more than the models do by about four points, for what it’s worth.) If the Orange capture both and don’t split, Syracuse is already working on the positive side of the projection. This isn’t an unreasonable hope, even if the data expectation is a 1-1 outcome.
  2. Syracuse has five games that are hovering around a 25-30% win probability based on the preseason football computer models: Pittsburgh, NC State, Wake Forest, Louisville, and Boston College. The Orange are expected to win one of those five, but considering where those games fall in the season and that the projected spreads are all around a touchdown or so at the moment, if things bend in Syracuse’s direction the outlook for the Orange changes in important ways. While the home-road splits here aren’t preferential — three are on the road, two at home — these teams, like the Orange, have issues that need to be resolved. There’s going to be expectations variance in this tier of teams in the ACC, and it’s pretty reasonable to anticipate that, as the year matures, the Orange will see a couple of these games pivot in their favor. This is a key consideration, especially as these five games aren’t long shots but are, currently, climbs.

It’s those seven games, I think, that will ultimately dictate the Orange’s season. Anything better than 2-5 in those games and Syracuse can get in a position to snag six wins. There’s about a 20% chance of Syracuse going 4-3 or better against those opponents via the preseason models, so it’s far from a guarantee, but it’s not impossible.

As for Syracuse’s projected ACC win total:

There’s a 55% chance that Syracuse finishes with between two and three league victories. There’s a higher probability that Syracuse finishes with one ACC victory (24%) than the Orange getting four or more (13%). The issue with this, of course, is that six of the seven games that will likely determine Syracuse year-end record are ACC games: Only one is a toss-up, but five more aren’t totally impossible. Obviously, when two-thirds of a team’s schedule are league games, conference results matter a lot when considering overall record. But, for the Orange, it’s especially important this season: Over 60% of its league games are going to require Syracuse to overshoot its preseason projection, which places a massive emphasis on the team’s ability to navigate ACC competition.

The Fun Part: How Confident are You in Your Prediction?

There’s an important difference between “Syracuse will beat Boston College!” and “Syracuse will squeeze past Boston College on a game-winning field goal!” Both are assertions of relative strength (“Syracuse is better than Boston College!”) but the latter adds context: A dominant projected margin promotes the idea that Syracuse would beat Boston College very frequently, while a tight projected margin indicates that Syracuse and Boston College are closer to competitive equals, offering the notion that Syracuse and Boston College would trade wins and losses over the course of a 100-game series. A team isn’t expected to win every game in which it is favored (weird stuff happens (injuries, sickness, defections, weird deflections, bonkers turnovers, oddball matchups, etc.), hence the entire reality of “upsets” (i.e., the Syracuse-Clemson game from 2017 that you keep yammering on about on the ol’ internet machine)), but a team that is dramatically stronger than an opponent is less likely to suffer a defeat; teams that are competitively square are expected to win as many as they lose to a peer. (This is why Vegas produces odds and spreads, duh.)

When forecasting victories, assigning projected margins is valuable: The average internet commenting megaphone may not care how six wins are achieved but, by God, they’re going to happen. However, understanding the likelihood of accruing victories, based on the relative strength of teams, allows for confidence testing. Looking at a prediction with more context helps shape the setting of expectations.

That brings us here: You may think that Syracuse is going 7-5 in 2018, but how are you (specifically) getting there and what’s the likelihood that your prediction comes to fruition? Rather than send you on a vision quest, I’ve put together a tool to help you test your confidence and provide a little color to your perspective of Earth. All you have to do is fill in the cells shaded in orange with your expected game margins (the workbook will do the rest for you).

DOWNLOAD THE 2018 SYRACUSE FAN PREDICTION MACHINE

(Click the link. You’ll need Microsoft Excel. If someone wants to put this into a shareable Google Sheet, knock yourself out.)

This tool will calculate a win probability for each of your game predictions, the win probabilities then forming the basis for the projected win total. The model also runs a Monte Carlo simulation to assess the likelihood of final records based on the inputted game margins. Even your standard-issue message board goon can handle this. Hopefully this will either cement your expectations for this season — at least those expectations based on pre-Labor Day thinking — or realign your brain toward something a little more supportable.