Neither program can quite put itself into an elite category, but both have attained a level of competitiveness with those in the top rung to either pull off the upset or cause them to sweat it out for four quarters. And in a sport where making a bowl game allows for extra practice time, getting to six wins is critical if either wants to take that next step from pesky competitor to true contender.
That's why this game is so critical to these Atlantic Division foes, who both have three games remaining. Wake sits at 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the ACC, while Syracuse is 4-5 and also 2-3 in the league. Reaching the ACC title game is off the table, but a tangible step forward is still available.
The Demon Deacons are coming off a 48-37 loss to Notre Dame, but that's not a bad loss in the grand scheme of things, because the Fighting Irish are very much in the College Football Playoff mix and one of the best teams in the nation.
Syracuse has lost two straight, both on the road, in competitive contests with unbeaten Miami and a down Florida State team. The Orange own a huge upset win over Clemson earlier in the season, but a nonconference loss to Middle Tennessee has put them in more of a crunch with regard to bowl eligibility.
This has every bit the look of a tossup game, and the current line reflects it.
Wake Forest at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network
Spread: Syracuse -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Bachman-Wolford overdrive
Wake Forest suffered a huge injury loss when standout redshirt freshman wide receiver Greg Dortch went down for the rest of the season with an abdominal injury. However, quarterback John Wolford (above, right) still found ways to move the ball through the air against the Fighting Irish, and his favorite target was a bit of a surprise: junior Alex Bachman. Although the game got away from the Demon Deacons early, Wolford had a nice connection with Bachman, who caught eight passes for 116 yards and a 30-yard touchdown. Bachman also caught a 37-yard pass, the team's longest of the game. Dortch brought a vertical element to the offense, and Bachman can be at least part of the solution when it comes to filling those big-play shoes.
2. Dungey's foot
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey passes every test when it comes to toughness and leadership, and that matters to the Orange just as much as his ability to run and throw. He displayed a lot of that grit in last weekend's loss to Florida State, sustaining a foot injury yet fighting through it and leading a last-minute drive that would have tied the game if not for a blocked field goal. Dungey will probably play, but just how much the foot injury bothers him could determine the outcome. With Dungey's mobility such a key to the Syracuse offense, not only do the Orange need him on the field, but they also need him to be healthy enough to execute the whole playbook.
3. Dome sweet dome
Of all the factors that may provide separation in this battle of evenly matched teams, there is one that tilts heavily in the favor of the Orange. Outside of the Middle Tennessee loss, the Orange have been perfect at the Carrier Dome. Only two of those wins are in ACC play, but one of them is the triumph over Clemson, while Wake has a 2-3 road mark. The atmosphere at the Dome has long been much better for basketball than football given the latter program's recent struggles, but the optimism in Central New York is rising, and there is genuine hope based on the Clemson win that those down years may be coming to an end. Expect a good crowd and one that can make that extra bit of difference in a close game.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson and Syracuse head coach Dino Babers have these teams on the right trajectory. The programs are firmly in the middle class of an elite conference, so winning a 50-50 game acts as a critical marker. Don't expect a blowout, but Syracuse is a bit more desperate and at home, so it should come out on top.
Prediction: Syracuse 30, Wake Forest 28
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.