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Why Syracuse football will finish 5-7 in 2021

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Perhaps the trickiest outcome of all...

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note — As has become a (much derided) tradition, TNIAAM writers will tell you all week why this year’s Syracuse Orange football team will finish with certain W-L records. These projections will get better as we go along, so hopefully you’re done being mad by mid-week or so.

The view’s different here, I must admit. Looking back at past years of this exercise, I actually handled the worst-case scenario every year from 2017-20 — a scarring exercise, really, that I’m also probably uniquely suited for. However, to change things up a bit this year, I got a less negative result to handle. It’s also likely to be the most complicated one.

Because Syracuse is potentially sitting at a bit of a crossroads this year with regard to the coaching staff. And while 3-9 and 4-8 potentially provide an easy course of action (buyout aside), 5-7 could complicate matters depending on how we get there.

After we’re done with the hypotheticals below, we can discuss exactly what happens next for Dino Babers & Co.

at Ohio Bobcats: There was greater possible concern about this game when Frank Solich was still in charge. However, the summer coaching change provides some optimism in Syracuse’s favor, and really, any legitimate 5-7 projection needs to feature a win over the Bobcats to avoid living in too much fantasy. W, (1-0), (0-0)

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: These teams haven’t seen one another on the field since an ugly 23-15 win for SUNJ back in 2012, and the smattering of Knights fans on the internet will tell you Rutgers has this one in the bag. As experienced fans of this sport, we, of course know that nothing is in the bag. Especially on the road. It’s not pretty, but the Orange make enough happen on offense and force a couple turnovers en route to a close victory. W, (2-0) (0-0)

Albany Great Danes: This first-ever meeting on the gridiron will not look like some of the recent men’s lacrosse bouts between these two schools. Syracuse scores early and often behind the play of Tommy DeVito, which means a lot of snaps for Garrett Shrader over the final 30 minutes. He handles them well, which of course creates a fissure within the fan base, as these things always do. Still, this is as ideal of a start as we could hope for. W, (3-0) (0-0)

Liberty Flames: You won’t believe this, but Syracuse is definitively not “back” just yet. Malik Willis is contained more than he was last year vs. the Orange, but this game still turns into a bit of a track meet — something that doesn’t help out SU in the long-term. The teams are close late, but Willis’s mobility just can’t be stopped, and the Flames score a shootout win at the Dome. Plenty of schadenfreude will rightfully head SU’s way once more after dropping yet another game to Falwell U, a school we never should’ve scheduled to begin with. L, (3-1), (0-0)

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

at Florida State Seminoles: In not “back” volume two, the road game against a resurgent ‘Noles squad isn’t what the doctor ordered. McKenzie Milton may not look exactly like QB he was at UCF, but he puts enough play-making and athleticism on display to keep the Orange defense guessing, and when forced to make things happen late in the game, the ‘Cuse offense just can’t deliver. It’s not an embarrassing showing. But it’s still a loss. And the familiar murmurs about Babers’s job and DeVito’s play under center — despite much better numbers this year — come out in full. L, (3-2) (0-1)

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: This has been a weird series, as you know. Since Syracuse lost the first game in 2006, the Orange went on to win four straight in decidedly weird fashion, lost two in a row under similarly odd circumstances, then followed up a workman-like 2018 win with this bonkers nonsense. Last year was a resounding Wake W. Following a pattern, we’ll probably see the buttoned-up Deacs score another here. L, (3-3) (0-2)

Clemson Tigers: Syracuse! Clemson! Friday night at the Dome! Insanity could lead some to pick the Orange in a repeat of 2017, but I won’t do that here given the greater disparities between the programs. Still: We’re going to get an interesting game for a few quarters after Babers sits DeVito for Shrader and the Mississippi State transfer keeps things close while picking up over 70 yards on the ground. It’s a loss on the field, but a win for #content, I guess? L, (3-4) (0-3)

at Virginia Tech Hokies: Understanding how much is at stake, Babers makes the call to start Shrader on the road vs. the Hokies. And with Tech reeling and Justin Fuente already seemingly packing his bags, the Orange wind up scoring a surprise win in Blacksburg. While it’s not a top-25 Hokies team, the road victory still gets our hopes up just enough to think that maybe SU’s figured something out with Shrader. W, (4-4) (1-3)

Boston College Eagles: Unfortunately, the good vibes are sort of short-lived. BC’s won two straight in this matchup, and wins another slugfest at the Dome this season to deal a solid blow to the resurgent Orange bowl hopes. Though Phil Jurkovec may have a little too much hype around him right now, he still shows himself talented enough to find holes in what winds up being a gassed SU defense. L, (4-5) (1-4)

at Louisville Cardinals: If the defense needs a reset, Louisville’s potent offensive attack probably isn’t the team to find it against. Malik Cunningham’s mobility creates problems fo the Orange, while Shrader struggles for a second straight game. Conflicted fans have no idea what to think about the QB position at this point, and most comment sections devolve into yelling about giving JaCobian Morgan a shot instead. L, (4-6) (1-5)

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

at N.C. State Wolfpack: Just like last year, the Pack certainly try to will the Orange into this game as SU fights for its bowl life. But Syracuse just doesn’t have enough in the tank on offense to hang with NC State, especially once Zonovan Knight gets going on the ground. The ‘Cuse defense actually helps them hang around for awhile, but a QB platoon of Shrader and DeVito falls short, as do postseason hopes. L, (4-7) (1-6)

Pittsburgh Panthers: Picking a win over Pitt has typically been a foolish exercise in recent years (just two wins since 2005 for Syracuse). Yet on senior day and against a questionable Kenny Pickett, the Orange manage to pull off an upset win against a reasonably good Panthers squad. DeVito winds up throwing two touchdowns while getting the lion’s share of the action, and later announces it was his last game for SU — something Babers knew in advance, which is why he gave him the ball for most of the game; which at least gets Orange fans slightly less angry around it in hindsight. W, (5-7) (2-6)

***

So yeah, that’s a season. Not a particularly great one, per se. But one that creates a complicated question for John Wildhack and the Orange brass depending on what that buyout number is.

In the case above, I think if you can afford the buyout (big “if,” to be honest), this result doesn’t inspire enough faith to keep going. With DeVito manning things for most of the wins and the team lacking a truly impressive W, it’s a tough sell after a fifth losing record in six years. If the Orange can get to five with a win over Clemson or just a ton of close games and consistent QB play, perhaps it’s an easier decision to keep Babers around. But here, we’ve avoided that in favor of what I feel is probably a much more likely outcome.