But for the No. 19 Orange, there’s plenty more to do. That begins with Saturday afternoon’s game against Wake Forest at BB&T Field.
“I’m just really proud of where those young men are,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said of his players. “Hopefully, we can continue the second part of our season winning things the right way.”
Syracuse is bowl eligible for the first time since 2013. The Orange haven’t had a national ranking attached to its name since the end of the 2001 season.
“For this senior class, we’ve been through a lot,” senior quarterback Eric Dungey said. “I know a lot of people in the community didn’t really think that we could get to a bowl game, but we just believed in ourselves.”
Syracuse (6-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off back-to-back home victories, beating North Carolina State 51-41 on Saturday night.
Wake Forest (4-4, 1-3) is riding a bit of a high as well, snapping a two-game skid with a 56-35 romp past Louisville.
“This is the healthiest we’ve been all season,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said, knowing his defense has often been damaged by injuries.
Points were aplenty the last time Wake Forest and Syracuse collided, with Wake Forest setting a Carrier Dome record for opponents’ points in last November’s 64-43 victory that included responding from a 17-point deficit. The Demon Deacons racked up a school-record 734 yards of total offense.
Dungey put a potential quarterback controversy to rest with a stellar outing against N.C. State. In the previous game, Tommy DeVito came off the bench late in regulation to help secure a double-overtime victory against North Carolina.
“Being challenged all week,” Babers said of Dungey. “You don’t have to whip him, you just got to show him the whip.”
Wake Forest’s quarterback situation hasn’t been quite so complicated. True freshman Sam Hartman has started every game, with steady signs of improvement. After throwing five interceptions across the first three games, he has been picked off only twice since then.
“He has the respect of his teammates,” Clawson said. ” … He has taken some hits. He never complains or points fingers, he just plays.”
Wake Forest’s big point total a year ago against Syracuse came without dynamic receiver Greg Dortch, now a redshirt sophomore who was out with an injury. He reached the 135-yard receiving mark for the third time this season against Louisville.
In a two-season stretch, Wake Forest leads the ACC with six 50-point games and Syracuse is second with five, including four this year.
Babers said he wants the Orange to go fast, saying he needs a race car driver at the controls. Wake Forest has altered tempo, sometimes preferring to slow down in an effort to put its depleted defense on the field less frequently, Clawson said.
While Syracuse had to contend with N.C. State’s aerial attack, Wake Forest might provide more spark on the ground. Senior running back Matt Colburn tore through Louisville for a career-best 243 yards and three touchdowns.
This game could be pivotal in Wake Forest’s quest to reach a bowl game for the third consecutive year.
“This team has stuck together, to come off the mat after Clemson and Florida State, they come back and practiced hard,” Clawson said. “We have a lot of games left, who knows what’s going to happen.”
Syracuse will be the third nationally ranked opponent to visit Wake Forest this season. The others were Notre Dame and Clemson, two teams that remain undefeated. Overall, Wake Forest holds a 23-136-1 record against ranked opponents — though the Demon Deacons had a victory in both 2016 and 2017 in such matchups.
For the homecoming game, Wake Forest will celebrate the 50th anniversary of BB&T Field, which opened in 1968 as Groves Stadium.
Before Syracuse, Babers was the Bowling Green coach in 2014 and 2015. He took over that program when Clawson left for the Wake Forest job.