Samford? Like, SAMFORD, Samford?
Sam. Not STAN-ford?
There it was. The underdog Samford Bulldogs who had just beaten something called “Shorter” the week before, was up 13-0 in the first half in Tallahassee against the big, bad Florida State Seminoles. It was like a middling tomato-can boxer trying to shock the world by coming out swinging. An FCS team was leading one of the 10 or so best FBS programs in the country. Even though most everyone figured FSU would come back and win, it had a “sound the alarm, Florida State is in trouble” feel to it for far too long.
Eventually, Samford lost its double-digit lead, and ended up losing to FSU, 36-26. Still, the Bulldogs made the Seminoles — who aren’t that far removed from their latest national championship — work for their come-from-behind win. I mean, it was 26-21 Samford in the FOURTH QUARTER.
Where have you gone, Jimbo Fisher? (Texas A&M, it ends up)
Games like that, ones featuring supposed Goliaths losing to Davids, are made for Twitter nowadays. And the second Samford got up two scores on FSU, tweets were flying hot and heavy. I know I was in on the action, wondering if Syracuse had a chance to be favored in this week’s matchup with the ‘Noles. A little over a week ago, Florida State was in the top 25 and was favored at home against Virginia Tech. Now, it was a legitimate question (especially from some FSU observers) of whether SU could blow the doors off a wounded FSU.
So what does all of that mean for the 2-0 Syracuse Orange? Is a 3-0 start, maybe a top-25 spot down the line, and an eventual bowl berth all a guarantee?
Well, for one, I’m not surprised that Vegas made the Seminoles a (roughly) small favorite. While it’s easy to wonder if Florida State is ready for a precipitous drop following Fisher’s departure to Texas A&M. I think there has been enough evidence to back up new head man Willie Taggart.
Taggart, who does seemingly change jobs almost as quickly as Mark Coyle, has beaten SU twice in the last four seasons. Hell, as coach for South Florida two years ago, the Bulls came back from down 17, dropped 45 points, and after the first quarter shutdown Eric Dungey and the Orange in the Carrier Dome.
Furthermore, after getting whooped by Virginia Tech in the opener, I don’t really blame the Noles for coming out flat against an FCS opponent. I know every player and coach is conditioned to constantly say something like, “we treat every game the same,” “every game is a big game,” “bleep, bloop, blaap,” but the truth is, they’re kids who were coming off an ugly L to the Hokies on national TV at home. It’s a bad look for Taggart and the team, but it’s not inconceivable that the atmosphere in Tallahassee was more morgue than major game, and that everyone in garnet and gold wasn’t exactly laser-locked in.
In other words: Florida State is likely not as good as it has been under Fisher, but don’t let the Samford game fool you. The Seminoles will eventually get it together. Maybe not this year, but it’ll happen.
Then again, whatever is going on with FSU so far this season, it doesn’t change a damn thing about the importance of this game (counter to -- respectfully -- the thoughts of the guy that run this place).
Syracuse just missed beating the ‘Noles in Florida last season and, through two games in 2018, has put up 117 points. The Orange’s senior quarterback, Eric Dungey, has thrown for seven TDs and run for another. He’s picked up 646 total yards in a little over six quarters of action. I still have doubts about the offensive line (and Dungey’s ability to stay in the pocket and make a play with his arm). And defensively, SU can’t seem to get to the opposing QB. But if Samford can record over 500 yards of offense in Tallahassee, Syracuse could be able to do some serious damage at the Dome.
It’s winnable and that’s huge, because the other thing is, this game so eerily reminds me of the 1997 win over Miami -- it’s almost scary.
That was 21 years ago and it represented a big flag-plant for Paul Pasqualoni’s crew. After both close calls and blow-out losses, SU finally bested The U. Of course, those Hurricanes had been decimated by NCAA sanctions, and were going something of a major fact lift under Butch Davis. Yes, winning against that Miami wasn’t really like defeating “Miami.” But if SU, with Donovan McNabb leading the way, was really on an upward trajectory as most believed at the time, then the Orangemen had to finally defeat the Big East’s real boss.
Syracuse hadn’t exactly lived up to expectations under Coach P (*bites tongue*), having lost three-straight games in ’97 after routing No. 24 Wisconsin in the season opener. Despite those losses (*bites tongue harder*), SU did round into form and was able to Mortal Kombat finish off the ‘Canes on the road to close out the regular season. The Fiesta Bowl game that followed (*blood spews from tongue*) did not go so well.
The U wasn’t anywhere near ranked at the time, and it would be a couple of seasons before it was back in the national discussion, and yet there could have a been a parade on Marshall Street because SYRACUSE BEAT MIAMI!
Now, this Orange outfit isn’t a top-25 squad and didn’t have preseason hype like the ’97 Orangemen. Yet Dino Babers, through emotional speeches and a couple of marque wins, has started making a name for himself nationally. Plus, SU has been tantalizingly close to six wins the last few years. It seems only natural that a December game is the next step in the decades-long battle to get back to relevancy. For that momentum to continue, an Orange win over a giant like Florida State this Saturday would certainly go a long way.
Luckily for Babers & Co., that giant has fallen on hard times. We all know that doesn’t guarantee anything. But it should give SU an advantage; one that has to be jumped on. There shouldn’t be room for another close call, another chance to say “yeah, the Orange lost, but it was to the Seminoles, so what are you going to do?” This isn’t rising up to stun Clemson and get some national pub for a minute. This is to prove that, for right now, Syracuse is actually the better team in a better position.
That team in ’97 (*Jim Ross voice*) stomped a mud hole in the Hurricanes and it didn’t matter in the slightest about what their record was, the W was a seminal moment. Funny enough, it could be a seminal moment against the Seminoles Saturday afternoon. That’s assuming Syracuse finishes what Samford started and finishes the job against Florida State.