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Syracuse football: what’s at stake for the Orange heading into the Purdue game?

This isn’t all or nothing, but...

NCAA Football: Purdue at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest: coach Dino Babers and the Syracuse Orange football team scared us pretty well within the first minute of Saturday’s game versus Western Michigan.

Yes, it wasn’t pretty to start — but Babers and company did shutdown the Broncos for the next 59 minutes of game time en route to a 48-7 blowout win. And now, the numbers absolutely adore your Orange heading into Week 3. Syracuse ranks 18th on ESPN’s College Football Power Index, sits with the third-best odds to win the ACC (behind Florida State and Miami) and possesses a 98% chance to reach at least six wins. And no, none of what you just read was a typo.

Yes, there was a lot of good to take away versus Western Michigan. There’s also the ever-looming question marks like Oronde Gadsden’s health, the state of this year’s offensive offensive line and how Syracuse’s performance will look once the competition starts to ramp up.

The last of that list remains the most important to figure out: the Orange simply handled business versus Colgate and Western Michigan in commanding fashion. But facing off versus the Purdue Boilermakers this coming Saturday on NBC primetime will be a different beast onto itself.

It’s simple: by the end of the year, this might end up as the season-defining game for the Orange. That remains to be seen come December. But, it will undoubtedly produce the most profound implications for Syracuse moving forward.

If you recall, Team TNIAAM projected Syracuse to finish between six and eight wins; most of us landed right in the middle at seven wins. Based on our previous record previews, the Purdue game pretty much sets the tone for how the rest of this season will play out.

It’s pretty evident once you look at the rest of Syracuse’s schedule and determine the “swing” games of the year — an exercise Christian, Mike and I did back in July. The Orange should enter as solid favorites versus Army at home, but after that comes the gauntlet of doom versus Clemson, #3 Florida State and #20 North Carolina. Following that demolition derby are winnable games against Virginia Tech (road), Boston College (home), Pittsburgh (home*), Georgia Tech (road) and Wake Forest (home).

NCAA Football: Purdue at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Generating some momentum, especially in a nationally televised game no less, will be big for the Orange’s morale moving forward.

Look no further than 2022, where then 2-0 Syracuse won at home versus the Boilermakers on a game-winning touchdown pass from Garrett Shrader to Gadsden. From the Orange’s point of view, the non-conference victory kicked off the momentum needed to rattle off three straight wins, built some confidence within the program and paved the way for the unforgettable 6-0 start.

Of course, this year’s Purdue program isn’t the same as last year’s. The Boilermakers in 2022 received votes in 10 of the 15 total AP polls; this season’s team sits at 59th overall in ESPN’s FPI with less than a one in three chance to reach six wins as of Sunday night.

The stakes are different, but the concept is the same: the Orange need to take advantage of this season’s schedule before the going gets brutal next month.

Yes, the game versus the Boilermakers obviously gives the Orange a first test versus an actual Power Five program — for us media members and fans alike, we all want to see Syracuse’s performance on the road against a Purdue-like team. It also just gives us added context in figuring out a more realistic benchmark for this season, something that can’t be totally measured out after only playing Colgate and Western Michigan.

Most importantly, it pretty much determines the next steps for what to expect from the Orange as this schedule ramps up.

Winning in a Big 10 road environment on national television would put Syracuse in fantastic position at 3-0 heading back home versus Army (96th in ESPN’s FPI) — that’s a sure-fire confidence booster for Babers and ‘Cuse. Such a scenario very much builds optimism to win that matchup and set up an upset possibility (yet again) versus Clemson, this time at home.

On the flip side, losing to Purdue sets up the nerve-racking “wait, is it time to panic?” versus Army path followed by the October schedule that could challenge the team’s resolve.

The bottom-line for all of this: it’s obviously too early to speculate about where Syracuse will stand by November. However, we’ve also seen the importance in how momentum and consistency correlate with the Orange’s success, something mostly uncommon up to this point in the Babers era.

Syracuse fans should feel optimistic following this weekend’s performance. But we also know this: compared to most Power Five programs, the Orange don’t have the ready-now depth to make up for any injuries nor the affordability to drop games it is favored to win.

Syracuse must strike while the iron is still hot. You best believe Babers and company will land in West Lafayette with that understanding.