After the Syracuse Orange football team was pummeled on Saturday against Louisville, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little uneasy about the team’s bowl chances. Banking on winning one of the last two games would be dicey enough regardless of opponent. But Syracuse happens to be facing the N.C. State Wolfpack and Pittsburgh Panthers.
Last week’s College Football Playoff rankings had both teams in the top 25 (State as No. 16 and Pitt as No. 21), and it stands to reason both will stick around when the new rankings come out on Tuesday night. On top of the obvious strength of both foes, there’s also the issue of Syracuse’s recent history against the Wolfpack and Panthers, respectively.
When it comes to NC State, it’s really the whole series, if we’re being honest. The Orange are just 2-12 against the Pack, including two straight losses — neither of which anyone here wants to discuss ever again. SU’s lone road win against NC State was back in 2013, and while the games since have been relatively close, ‘Cuse does seem snakebitten against this team regardless of venue.
And then there’s Pitt...
While Syracuse once won 11 straight against the Panthers from 1991 to 2001, and is 19-17-3 against them at home (where this game will be contested), the last couple decades have done the Orange no favors in this series. Despite playing each other every year in this stretch, Syracuse has beaten Pitt just three times since 2004, and all of those wins came by seven points or less. Pitt has won three straight, with SU’s last win coming in 2017 (a 27-24 game at the Dome).
If Syracuse loses to NC State and enters the final game needing a win to go bowling, we’ve been in similar spots in the past, too. SU was 5-6 heading into the final weekend against Pitt back in 2011, and fell 33-20 to the Panthers. Failing to make a bowl game after starting 5-4 wouldn’t be as bad as that season, when the Orange started 5-2 before losing five straight. But avoiding that sort of collapse would provide little solace for us as fans.
Notably, Syracuse has a few 5-5 starts in recent history. The 2000 squad started 5-5, then beat Rutgers in the final game to get to a bowl-less six wins. In 2003, 5-5 turned into a bowl-less 6-6 after the Orange trounced Notre Dame in the season finale and in 2004, the Diamond Ferri game helped turn 5-5 into 6-5 and a joint Big East title — though we don’t talk about what happened afterward. We covered 2011 above, while the 2012 team won the final three games after the 5-5 start to get to 8-5 on the year. SU’s 2013 team also salvaged a 5-5 start to wind up at 7-6 with a bowl win over Minnesota.
So while the opponent history isn’t reassuring, at least the Orange have a history of digging up sixth wins in this situation?