Football

Hass: Syracuse must defeat Tulane to keep bowl hopes alive with tough ACC schedule ahead

Syracuse started last season 1-3, surrendering 118 points through four games. The future looked bleak, and with games against South Florida, Louisville and Missouri on the horizon, a bowl game appeared to be a longshot.

But the Orange won all three of those games, bouncing back from a sluggish start and finishing the regular season 7-5. Riding high into Yankee Stadium, Syracuse clobbered West Virginia 38-14 in the Pinstripe Bowl.

The Orange completed a similar 1-3 turnaround in 1997 when Donovan McNabb sparked the Orange to a 9-4 record and a Big East regular-season championship.

The 1-3 start didn’t matter in ’97 or in 2012. Both of those teams were anchored by dominant, experienced quarterbacks and were chock-full of talented players. This year’s team has a shot to earn a bowl appearance, but it’s not capable of digging itself out of a 1-3 hole. At 1-2 now, Syracuse will need to beat Tulane on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome to keep its postseason hopes alive. Upcoming games against the likes of No. 3 Clemson and No. 8 Florida State make this tuneup crucial.

Syracuse running back Devante McFarlane bobbed his head when asked if this game is a must-win in order to make a bowl game.

“I believe so,” McFarlane said. “We should win this game, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Listen, I hate the must-win deal as much as the next guy. Saying a baseball game in June is a must-win is preposterous. But in this case, this game is actually a must-win. Because there are only 12 games in the college football season, even the fourth game of the season is critical.

Saturday’s matchup is a crossroads for Syracuse. Win, and SU is back at .500 entering conference play after a tough loss to Penn State and a sloppy performance against Northwestern. Lose, and the Orange is 1-3 and staring face-to-face with goliath Clemson in SU’s first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference game.

This game is pivotal and definitely winnable. Tulane lost to South Alabama. South Alabama lost to Southern Utah. Southern Utah lost by 38 to Washington State. You get the picture.

There’s nothing mind-blowingly impressive about the Green Wave. Syracuse is a 14.5-point favorite for a reason. Tulane throws the ball a lot. Its defense is OK. It plays a relatively easy schedule and Syracuse is one of its toughest tests.

For Syracuse, though, Tulane is one of its easiest opponents. On paper, it should be a win. After Tulane and a bye week, Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Tajh Boyd and Clemson come stomping into the Carrier Dome. Then SU travels down to North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. Both of those games will be in hostile environments against quality teams.

If SU is 1-6 heading into a home matchup with Wake Forest, a bowl game is out of the question with Florida State and Maryland on tap.

But Scott Shafer denied the notion that Saturday’s matchup is a must-win in order to make a bowl game.

“No,” Shafer said. “Every game’s a must-win.”

Shafer has preached the philosophy “don’t you change” all season. He was proud of his defense and the entire team for staying resolute last season. Instead of altering its approach and getting discouraged, Syracuse stayed grounded and continued to do what it had been doing.

The results came in a whirlwind. This year, though, not changing will be difficult if Syracuse drops this game. Penciling in Clemson, NC State and Georgia Tech as losses, SU simply can’t afford to lose against Tulane.

In ’97, Syracuse had Keith Bulluck at linebacker and Quinton Spotwood at wide receiver to help McNabb, who had his No. 5 jersey retired by the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.

In 2012, Ryan Nassib commanded an offense led by superb route runners Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales.

This year, the nucleus isn’t bad. Terrel Hunt glistened against Wagner, but that was Wagner. Jerome Smith and Ashton Broyld have been steady options to start the season, but the overall talent pool just isn’t enough, especially considering the talent SU is up against in the near future.

Don’t expect a Syracuse blowout on Saturday. The Green Wave isn’t great, but it ain’t too shabby, either. A win is all the Orange needs to keep its dream at a bowl appearance alive.

 

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