Football is relative. That kid you see kicking butt at your local High School field is likely to become an also-ran college athlete; even the worst NCAA Division 1 team could likely win the D2 championship.
Such a simple concept, such far-reaching implications! After years of SEC dominance in college football, bookies are now trying to wrap their heads around a new pecking order that includes the ACC and Big Ten on top of the heap. As always, the question is whether the depth of a conference is equal to its ceiling.
The ACC took a crushing amount of social-media and podcast-hate near the start of the 2019-20 season as favorites fell against Group-of-5 programs (though we’re not sure if Boise State’s win over FSU really counts as an “upset” at this point) and pundits somehow managed to ignore results like UNC’s defeat of South Carolina.
There’s nothing wrong with either division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, insofar as the ACC is a group of elite schools that produced a run-away national champion last season. Any suggestion otherwise is fan blather.
Syracuse might have been a likely candidate for a devaluing in Las Vegas thanks to a 3-2 record and the myth that its conference is suddenly weak. But smart sharks aren’t buying the conceit that there are only a handful of decent ACC programs bound to whip hapless underdogs – instead they’re rushing to wager on the visiting Orangemen to win and/or cover against a shrinking point spread this Thursday night in Raleigh.
Who: Syracuse Orangemen at NC State Wolfpack
When: Thursday, October 10th, 8 PM EST
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
Lines: Syracuse (+4.5) at NC State (-4.5) / O/U Total: (57)
I like the Orange under Dino Babers and have cheered for the program to break into the Top 15. If only the 2017 and 2018 battles with Clemson were on record, Syracuse might be regarded as a pillar of northeastern pigskin.
But there’s at least 12 games on every docket…and ‘Cuse has had problems playing its A-game against lesser lights. The Orangemen finally got it rolling in late 2018 (save for a loss to Notre Dame) but only drew West Virginia in an unremarkable Orlando bowl game.
Perhaps the banal trip to Florida was a harbinger of things to come. Syracuse and NC State may have matching 3-2 records but the visitors are a strange lot as a popular underdog, having not shown any kind of competitive form against Power-5 teams with a pulse.
The Orange has beaten Liberty, Western Michigan, and Holy Cross. Syracuse ran those squads ragged on the gridiron as you might expect, but QB Tommy Devito had an off day against the Flames in the opener.
Devito got better in Week 2 only to watch in horror as the defense gave up 6 rushing TDs to Maryland:
The Orange allowed 650 total yards, including 354 rushing yards. Maryland had four different backs rush for at least 67 yards and score a touchdown. The Terrapins scored a touchdown on seven of their first eight possessions. Babers noted Syracuse had to adjust to formations and plays he had not seen on film from Maryland head coach Mike Locksley’s team the week before, failing a big test every coach has to take early in the season.
Syracuse’s biggest defensive sin was a startling number of missed tackles. Maryland running backs Javon Leake (107 yards), Jake Funk (94 yards) Anthony McFarland (75 yards) and Tayon Fleet-Davis (68 yards) took an easy afternoon stroll through the Orange defense. Leake ripped off a 64-yard touchdown. Funk had a 54-yard run and a fourth-quarter touchdown drive where he ran for 92 yards on three straight carries. All four backs had at least one run over 20 yards.
Syracuse defensive players whiffed on so many Maryland tackles it was like the game was played on ice and only Maryland remembered to bring their skates. Liberty is Liberty and Maryland is Maryland, but Syracuse’s defensive performance was a stunning reversal from dominant to disaster in one week.
The D got better against Clemson, but there’s a familiarity and collective-memory at work when the Orangemen play the Tigers, and the game was lost by 5 touchdowns anyway. Syracuse has flunked against good teams so far.
Does the NC State Wolfpack qualify as a “good” team? Maybe not. In some respects the Wolfpack has resembled its Thursday night opponent through 6 weeks, beating up on smaller programs like Ball State and Western Carolina while looking pale against the Power-5. West Virginia ran and passed all over NC State in the 1st big-time test of the season, scoring 44 points against a visiting defense that recorded only 1 sack and modest QB hurries.
Things got worse against Florida State. Seminole quarterback Alex Hornibrook looked like Phil Simms against the Wolfpack secondary, and NC State wound up trying 3 different quarterbacks, none of whom were safe from swift LB Amari Gainer of the Tomahawk tribe.
At least Thursday’s hosts have been opening a few holes for tailbacks (unlike Syracuse vs the P5) and getting after the passer a little bit themselves, which is hard to do when a run defense is as poor as the Orange has been.
I’m liking North Carolina State to cover (-4.5) as the line-movement is largely due to QB analysis. NC State is in a quarterback quandary, but Syracuse’s guy hasn’t been much better than anyone Wolfpack coaches will throw on the field. QB play won’t tell the entire tale on a brisk autumn day – a day on which the hosts are more likely to win the line-of-scrimmage for 3 or 4 quarters in a battle of resistible force vs movable object.