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Syracuse is Bowl Eligible After Win Over NC State

By Dave Holcomb
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Heading into the 2018 season, it had been at least half a decade since either football program made the postseason.

Diehard Syracuse sports fans will always group their Orange with the Kansas Jayhawks because the two storied basketball programs met in Syracuse’s only basketball national championship in 2003. But Kansas and Syracuse share an unfortunate common thread in football as well.

Heading into the 2018 season, it had been at least half a decade since either football program made the postseason. Syracuse last made a bowl game in 2013, which made it the second-longest bowl drought in the country (behind only Kansas).

That dubious streak, though, came to an end Saturday night behind the arm of quarterback Eric Dungey. In their first primetime home game in seven years, Syracuse knocked off No. 22 N.C. State, 51-41, to win its sixth game and earn bowl eligibility.

With the victory, Syracuse improved to 6-2, including 5-0 at home. The Orange will have a shot at their first undefeated home record since 1991 in two weeks against struggling Louisville.

Coming into the game, Syracuse coach Dino Babers refused to announce who would start at quarterback. Dungey has been the team’s heart and soul during his three years as starter, but redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito came on in relief to lead the Orange to an overtime victory last week.

DeVito is obviously talented and will likely one day be a three-year starter for the Orange as well, but Babers rightfully started the senior. Dungey completed 27 of 38 passes for 411 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also added a rushing score in the shootout.

The redshirt freshman played one series and made a couple nice throws, but his drive stalled after an intentional grounding penalty on third down. With DeVito’s 21 passing yards and a 48-yard pass on a trick play from wide receiver Dontae Strickland, the Orange recorded 480 yards through the air, which is the most in three years under coach Babers.

N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley played extremely well too, but overall, this game showed again how the Wolfpack aren’t ready to be an elite program. Coach Dave Doeren said the right things this week, warning his team against an emotional letdown after losing so badly to Clemson, but it still happened.

One quarter into Saturday, N.C. State trailed, 24-7.

To the Wolfpack’s credit, they didn’t quit. Finley threw for a career-high 473 yards and three touchdowns.

But down by three late in the fourth quarter and while facing an unblocked blitzer on third down, Finley threw a costly interception. It would be the only turnover in the shootout, and it led to Syracuse’s game-sealing touchdown.

More than Finley, though, the N.C. State defense was the most at fault. The Wolfpack yielded 561 yards, including 271 in the first quarter, giving Finley too big a hole to climb out.

In the last two weeks, N.C. State has allowed 92 points and 1,032 yards. The fact it happened in arguably the two hardest road environments in the Atlantic Division is no excuse. That isn’t the sign of an elite team.

N.C. State will look to pick up the pieces against a reeling Florida State squad next week. The Wolfpack could run the table and still finish with 10 wins, but the program failed through the toughest part of its conference schedule.

Syracuse will need to be wary of its own emotional letdown on the road next week, but the victory against N.C. State reaffirms the Orange football program is truly on the rise.

Bowl trips don’t come often to upstate New York. Not only has it been five years since the last Orange postseason berth, Syracuse has made a bowl game just four times since 2002.

Six wins doesn’t sound like much for a lot of football programs, but it’s a big deal to the Orange.

Now that six wins has been achieved, though, Syracuse doesn’t want to stop here. They end the season with Wake Forest, Louisville, Notre Dame and Boston College, giving them ample chance at a winning regular season.

In three years under Babers, Syracuse has knocked off Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech and now N.C. State. If the Orange defeat Wake Forest and Louisville in the next two weeks, Babers will have a victory against every team in the Atlantic Division.

Should that happen, the Orange will have a shot at a really special season. Beating Boston College as well would mean Syracuse’s first season with at least nine victories since 2001 and a second place finish in the Atlantic Division.

After two straight seasons of finishing last in the Atlantic, that might be an even bigger accomplishment than nine wins.

Syracuse still has plenty of work to do to make any of these fantasies a reality. In order to keep winning, the Orange will likely have to shore up their defense, which allowed 541 yards Saturday night.

But no matter what, Syracuse fans have more than the basketball team to look forward to in December.