NC State football 2021 schedule countdown: No. 10, Syracuse
Introducing a 12-part series in which we rank NC State’s 2021 strength of schedule from the easiest opponent (No. 12) to the most challenging (No. 1).
Checking in at No. 10 is Syracuse, the Wolfpack’s 11th opponent this fall.
The Pack is scheduled to host the Orange in Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20 at a time to be announced.
Head Coach: Dino Babers (6th season) — 24-36 (.400)
2020 Record: 1-10
at North Carolina — L, 31-6
at Pittsburgh — L, 21-10
Georgia Tech — W, 37-20
Duke — L, 38-24
Liberty — L, 38-21
at Clemson — L, 47-21
Wake Forest — L, 38-14
Boston College — L, 16-13
at Louisville — L, 30-0
NC State — L, 36-29
at Notre Dame — L, 45-21
2017 — 58th
2018 — 64th
2019 — 64th
2020 — 54th
2021 — 51st
2020 Season Review
The cards were already stacked against Syracuse entering the 2020 season with a rather young roster, but a few bad breaks resulted in a catastrophe of a season.
The Orange trailed UNC 10-6 entering the fourth quarter of their season opener in Chapel Hill only to give up 21 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes, resulting in a score that didn't exactly tell the whole story.
Cuse followed it up with a decent road effort against a then-ranked Pittsburgh team. It went on to claim its first victory of the season in a 37-20 win over a young but talented Georgia Tech team.
Then Syracuse's starting quarterback, redshirt junior Tommy DeVito suffered a season-ending injury in game four against Duke. Combine that with a slew of opt-outs and various other injuries to key rotational players, and it was mostly downhill the rest of the way with an incredibly thin roster.
Including the Duke game, the Orange went on to lose their next four games each by a margin of two or more touchdowns. Cuse showed fight in close calls at home against Boston College and NC State, both teams that finished with winning records, but the efforts were never rewarded in the win column.
Syracuse finished with the worst record of any team NC State played in 2020, but the Orange may have been slightly better than their overall record indicated. Pro Football Focus (PFF) handed Cuse a season overall grade that ranked No. 109 among 128 FBS programs that competed last fall, which was higher than two other Pack foes: Florida State and Georgia Tech.
The Orange's offense ranked No. 124 and their defense ranked No. 51 among FBS teams in 2020 according to PFF.
Did You Know?
•NC State has more wins over Syracuse than any other ACC school during head coach Dave Doeren's tenure in Raleigh. The Wolfpack is 6-2 against the Orange under Doeren, which includes two more wins than State has had over North Carolina (4) and Wake Forest (4) during that stretch.
•NC State is 12-2 all-time against Syracuse. The Wolfpack won all six past meetings against the Orange in non-conference meetings and is 6-2 against them since the program joined the ACC in 2013.
2020 was by far Syracuse's worst season under Babers. Prior to the 2020 season, Babers was 23-26 in four years at Syracuse, including a 10-3 campaign in 2018 that resulted in a second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Excluding 2020, Babers has had at least four wins every season he has been at Syracuse. The Orange won't be a contender in the ACC Atlantic this fall, but 4-5 wins sounds right after a forgettable fall last year.
Syracuse will return most of its producers from last season. The Orange ranks No. 26 nationally and No. 4 in the ACC in terms of overall returning production according to ESPN's Bill Connelly's SP+ metric. Cuse ranks 26th in returning offensive production and 45th in returning defensive production.
The biggest returning piece is DeVito, who was the Orange's starting quarterback entering the season before an injury in game four sidelined him for the rest of the campaign. In four starts, Devito completed 50 percent of his passes for 593 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He also netted 23 rushing yards on 43 attempts.
Freshman running back Sean Tucker also returns as the Orange's leading rusher in 2020. He gained 626 yards on 137 attempts (4.8 yards per carry), including four touchdowns. Tucker also reeled in eight receptions for 113 yards.
Junior wide receiver Taj Harris is also back after leading Syracuse with 733 receiving yards in 2020, 350 more than any other pass catcher on the team. He averaged 73.3 receiving yards per game with a team-high 58 receptions, including five for a touchdown.
Leading tackler sophomore linebacker Mikel Jones will headline the 2021 Orange's defense. In 11 appearances in 2020, Jones produced 69 tackles, 2.0 for loss, five quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one pass break up and one sack. He also led the team with four interceptions, which also tied for the most in the ACC.
Why No. 10 In The Countdown?
Syracuse should be better this fall than it was in 2020 but short of any surprises, NC State should be a double-digit favorite when the Orange visits Raleigh this November.
Cuse will be the lowest-ranked ACC quad on NC State's schedule rankings, which seems fitting considering the Pack's track record of success against the program under Doeren.
Athlon Sports picked Syracuse to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division in its preseason standings.
The Orange should see improvement on both sides of the ball this fall, but they have a long way to go, particularly on offense considering the unit was among the worst in the FBS in 2020.
Syracuse will also need to fix its turnover problem. Despite leading the ACC and finishing No. 3 among FBS programs with 24 turnovers gained in 2020, the Orange ranked tied for No. 122 of 127 FBS programs with 21 turnovers lost in 11 games last fall.