Syracuse Stands in the Way of Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff Push

    You could make the case that the biggest game of Week 12 is being held at Yankee Stadium, a four-hour drive for the fans of No. 12 Syracuse. College

    November 14, 2018

    You could make the case that the biggest game of Week 12 is being held at Yankee Stadium, a four-hour drive for the fans of No. 12 Syracuse.

    College football fans may have laughed at that sentence in August, but now the Orange could be the second-best opponent — after Michigan — on Notre Dame’s schedule, which includes games against Stanford, USC, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Those are obviously bigger football brands than Syracuse, but it’s the basketball school from upstate New York that is arguably the ACC’s next-best team after Clemson.

    With a high-scoring offense and its only losses coming on the road by a touchdown or less against ACC division leaders Clemson and Pittsburgh, ‘Cuse should be treated as a legitimate threat to the Fighting Irish’s College Football Playoff hopes.

    The Orange’s No. 12 ranking is the school’s highest since 1998, and they could be in the midst of their best season since they went 10-3 and won the Insight Bowl in 2001.

    Although Notre Dame is favored by 10.5 points in Vegas, there’s a way in which Clemson could pull off the upset and shake up the top of the College Football Playoff rankings.

    Syracuse has offense and lots of it

    The Orange are seventh nationally in scoring offense at 44.4 points per game. That’s more than both Ohio State and West Virginia, a pair of teams led by quarterbacks who are in the Heisman Trophy conversation, and just over a point less than Clemson.

    Syracuse is 27th in rushing offense (216 yards/game) and 37th in passing offense (266 yards/game), a combination that gives the Orange the 14th-best offensive yardage per game in the country.

    Senior quarterback Eric Dungey is on the verge of cracking 3,000 total yards of offense for the season with 2,193 yards passing and 690 yards rushing. He’s responsible for 12 of the team’s 32 rushing touchdowns.

    Junior running back Moe Neal is pacing the team with 716 rushing yards (6.0 ypc), and he’s coming off of a career day against Louisville, when he rushed eight times for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

    Leading receiver Jamal Custis provides a big target at 6-5. He’s averaging nearly 18 yards per catch with 42 receptions for 748 yards and five touchdowns.

    Syracuse’s explosive offense is averaging almost six plays per game of at least 20 yards, almost three of at least 30 yards and one 50-plus yard play per game.

    ‘Cuse is also scoring on roughly 89 percent of its trips to the red zone.

    Not an elite defense, but an opportunistic one

    Syracuse’s surface-level defensive numbers may not jump off the page — the Orange allow 27.6 points and 430 yards per game. However, they’re great on third down and have a useful habit of taking the ball away from their opponent.

    Opponents convert just 26 percent of their third-down attempts against Syracuse, the fifth-best mark in the country. The Orange have forced 25 turnovers this season, giving them the fourth-best turnover margin in the country at +13.

    If you follow college football closely, you’ve watched — or at least heard about — the defensive lines at Alabama and Clemson, which are home to future pros who routinely wreak havoc in opposing backfields. The Crimson Tide and Tigers average 3.6 sacks per game, not far ahead of Syracuse at 3.3 sacks per game.

    Defensive linemen Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman are the names to know. Robinson leads the team with nine sacks while Coleman has seven. Robinson also has 15 tackles for a loss, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two pass break-ups.

    Kickers deserve love, too

    After all, coaches like to say that special teams is one-third of the game.

    Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon was 1-for-2 in the Fighting Irish’s 31-21 win against Northwestern, whose own kicker, Charlie Kuhbander, was 0-for-1. Both kicks were missed inside of 45 yards.

    Pittsburgh missed both of its field goal attempts against Notre Dame. The Panthers lost 19-14.

    Vanderbilt missed a 43-yard field goal in a 22-17 loss to the Fighting Irish.

    Ball State missed a 46-yarder in an eight-point loss to Notre Dame.

    See a theme?

    Luckily for Syracuse, they shouldn’t have to worry about shoddy kicking thanks to freshman Andre Szmyt. His 93.1 field goal percentage ranks fifth in the nation, and he leads the country with 27 made field goals.

    Szmyt is also perfect on 51 point-after attempts and is 3-for-3 from beyond 50 yards.

    Syracuse hasn’t been blown out this year. It lost 27-23 to Clemson and 44-37 in overtime to Pitt, so there’s almost a full season of evidence that suggests the Orange won’t be embarrassed on Saturday. If they keep it close, which their record and the line in Vegas suggest is likely, Szmyt’s leg could prove to be the difference.

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