No. 15: Syracuse Orange

With Lou Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt back, Syracuse's kicking game is in good hands.

Dino Babers has the Cuse poised for another big year. How big? We'll know after Clemson comes calling in Week 3

There’s a lot of buzz for the Orange this year. They’re coming off an uplifting 10-3 record after back-to-back 4-8s in Dino Babers’ first two years. And they might be the ACC’s best hope at saving the college football world from another Clemson victory march.

Even though Syracuse loses QB whiz Eric Dungey, his successor, Tommy DeVito, will have lots of good skill guys around him, including runners Moe Neal (869 yards last fall) and Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams; one of the ACC’s best receiving corps, and Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Andre Szmyt.

Some good linemen provide hopes that the defense will hold up its end of the deal.

And yet, there are questions. Among them, will Babers take the money and run to a bigger and better program at season’s end? Does it matter that Syracuse has moved into the vacuum created by the shocking demise of Florida State and Louisville? After all, it’s still in the same division with Clemson.

And. . . what’s the deal with the schedule?

Syracuse `welcomes’ Liberty to full FBS status by traveling to Lynchburg, Va., on Aug. 31. Officially, it’s in important recruiting country near the ’Cuse’s considerable Washington, D.C., alumni base. Unofficially, it should be an easy win, although the the Flames’ hiring of disgraced Hugh Freeze adds a layer of drama.

In Week 2, the Orange travel to Maryland in a rematch of the 1985 Cherry Bowl at the Pontiac Silverdome. I know this because I arrived in the area the next day to cover the Packers-Lions game. The Lions were the Bears’ next opponent, which was one of my Super Bowl Shuffle specialties.

Judging by the celebratory pizza boxes in the Northfield Hilton hallways, it was one heck of a bowl game, Maryland won 35-18 in the second (and final) Cherry Bowl.

I mention this because I advise opponents not to sleep on the Terrapins, who have beaten Texas in early games the last two seasons. And because I believe Mike Locksley’s hiring at Maryland, where he’s a perfect fit, would be a fascinating story if he wins some games. Which I believe he has a chance to do.

Let’s just assume, though, that Syracuse avoids the unthinkable at Liberty and takes care of business at Maryland.

Next up is a home date with Clemson. Last year, you may recall, the ’Cuse famously blew a 23-13 fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Tigers to escape despite an injury to shiny new QB Trevor Lawrence, who had bumped accomplished incumbent Kelly Bryant into transferring.

And just like that, the Orange deprived the college football world of the delicious possibility of A Playoff Without the Tigers.

A Syracuse win this year would be even more shocking. Because the knowledge of last year will lead people to believe an improved ’Cuse could finish the job this year.

Remember when people thought the Orange had a chance to knock a 10-0 Notre Dame from the ranks of the unbeaten in November in Yankee Stadium. The Irish put a 36-3 kibosh on that.

A Syracus win over Clemson this year would be monumental. That said, it’s a pie-in-the-sky proposition. But in an ACC which is basically Clemson & the June Taylor Dancers, pencil in the Orange for another 10-win season.

Whether they’ll be one of the 16 best teams in the nation is debatable. But they’re well-positioned to wind up with one of the 16 best records.

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