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College football: Orange on pace so far to snag bowl berth

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You won’t see Syracuse University listed in the first Bowl Championship Series standings, set to be released on Sunday.

But at the midway point of the season, the Orange is halfway toward its goal of reaching a bowl game for the third time in the last four seasons.

SU (3-3 overall, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has gone through each extreme in its bowl quest over the last two seasons.

Last year, the Orange overcame a 2-4 start to win five of its last six and reach the Pinstripe Bowl. In 2011, SU lost five straight after a 5-2 start to end a disappointing campaign long before Bowl season.

With a .500 record and about to enter a slew of games against evenly matched opponents — for the most part — the Orange’s bowl eligibility is again likely to come down to the last week or two of the regular season.

In the preseason, a certain Times reporter with a less-than-flattering mug shot on the cover of today’s sports section predicted a 7-5 finish and a bowl berth for SU.

Here’s a look at the remaining schedule and why the Orange is on track to do just that.

Saturday, at Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2): For the second straight week, SU is a 7-point underdog on the road. Should SU prove the oddsmakers wrong as it did against North Carolina State last Saturday, it would go into its final bye week of the season above .500 and just two wins away from a potential bowl berth. This should be an evenly matched game between two of the top three rushing teams in the ACC. The Yellowjackets have given up more than 40 points in two straight losses – to No. 10 Miami and Brigham Young University. This is a winnable game that would do wonders for SU’s chances.

Nov. 2, vs. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2): This is the most favorable matchup remaining on the schedule for SU. The Demon Decons have struggled offensively all year, and with games against Maryland and Florida State over the next two weeks, could enter the Dome with a 1-4 conference record. Add the fact that SU will be coming off a bye week and will be returning to the Carrier Dome for the first time in nearly a month. It all points to SU’s fifth win of the year.

Nov. 9, at Maryland (5-1, 1-1): The Terrapins will be favored at home. A 63-0 loss to Florida State two weeks ago proved that Maryland isn’t one of the ACC’s elite teams, but the 49-14 home loss to Clemson showed that SU isn’t, either. Maryland has appeared in the AP Top 25 this season and is on pace to finish with 10 wins. One of those victories will likely come here against the Orange.

Nov. 16, at Florida State (5-0, 3-0): While SU is fighting for a chance to reach, say, the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Seminoles could be fighting for a chance to play for a National Championship. It is highly probable that SU leaves Tallahassee the same way it entered — one win shy of bowl eligibility.

Nov. 23, vs. Pittsburgh (3-2, 2-2): A return to the Carrier Dome should provide that elusive sixth win for SU. In its last two games, Pitt has tallied just 31 total rushing yards and has allowed 15 sacks. The Panthers rank last in the ACC with 21 sacks allowed all year. Jay Bromley (tied for seventh in the nation with six sacks) and SU’s blitz-heavy defensive scheme should give SU a guaranteed shot at playing in a bowl game.

Nov. 30, vs. Boston College (3-3, 1-3): The regular-season finale becomes a must-win if SU slips up somewhere else along the way. The Eagles are much improved under first-year coach Steve Addazio and played No 3 Clemson and No. 6 Florida State tough in two of their three losses. But they are 0-2 on the road so far and will be playing its sixth game in as many weeks at this point, as well as its fourth road game in five weeks. It’s another close matchup between two teams in the middle of the pack in the ACC. We’ll say SU wins to close out the regular season at 7-5.

Overall, SU has one game remaining that it should absolutely win (Wake Forest) and one game it is very likely to lose (Florida State). The other four games are toss-ups between teams that are going to fill out the middle of the ACC standings. SU seems to have committed fully to its run game, which is emerging as one of the nation’s best after two straight 300-plus yard performances. The defense has improved every week that it hasn’t had to play Clemson, and already ranks in the top 10 nationally in sacks, three-and-outs and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. If sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt can settle in after a pair of shaky starts, SU should have no problem ending the season near the top of that middle-of-the-road group in the ACC and head to a bowl game much like the Pinstripe Bowl — in terms of prestige — which the Orange won in 2010 and 2012.

INJURY UPDATES

Linebacker Dyshawn Davis and running back George Morris II are out for Saturday’s game, as confirmed by SU coach Scott Shafer’s injury report Thursday night.

Davis missed the second half of last Saturday’s victory over North Carolina State with an ankle injury. The junior has recorded at least three tackles in each game this season and ranks 10th in SU history for career tackles for loss.

Morris II, a freshman running back and kick returner, will miss his second straight game with an upper-body injury.

HOW TO WATCH SATURDAY’S GAME

SU’s game against Georgia Tech on Saturday will be shown locally on WSTM (Channel 3). Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. For the third straight week, the ACC Regional Sports Network will broadcast the game.

Sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers SU football for the Times. He can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net.

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