This Saturday, Liberty will ride a six-game winning streak into the Carrier Dome for a matchup against the 1-3 Syracuse Orange.

Quite a bit has changed since the Flames fell to Syracuse 24-0 in last season’s opener at Williams Stadium. Both teams will feature new starting quarterbacks: Malik Willis for Liberty, and fifth-year senior Rex Culpeper for the Orange.

Syracuse lost starting quarterback Tommy DeVito to a season-ending injury last week at Duke. Culpepper, who has not started a game since 2017, has completed 9 of 18 passes for one touchdown and one interception this year. Before a 2018 battle with cancer, Culpeper was 45 of 75 in 2017. That year, he threw for two touchdowns and three picks. Syracuse does retain starting running back Sean Tucker, who has rushed for 188 yards on 40 carries in 2020.

Taj Harris will likely be Culpepper’s top target against the Flames. Harris, who leads the team in receiving yards with 338, is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception and has caught three touchdowns in 2020. Containing Harris will be crucial for the Flames.

Duke ran all over the Syracuse defense last week: amassing 363 rushing yards and 645 yards total en route to a 38-24 win. Syracuse’s poor defensive showing is a good sign for the Flames, who rank seventh in the nation in rushing. Expect Joshua Mack to get plenty of carries early in Saturday’s game to test Syracuse’s defense. Containing Liberty’s running back corps and Malik Willis could prove challenging for Syracuse.

In addition to the loss of DeVito, All-American safety Andre Cisco will miss extended time due to injury. Syracuse, who is surrendering an average of 31.75 points per game this season, ranks 66th out of the 76 FBS defenses who have played in 2020.

In total, Syracuse has 13 starters or key players who did not finish last Saturday’s game or will miss the Liberty game due to injury, according to 2020 is seeming more and more like a rebuilding year for the Orange.

For the first time in school history, Liberty is favored against an ACC opponent. While Syracuse is obviously not healthy, the fact that Liberty is projected to win by three against Syracuse is remarkable. Just three years ago, Liberty was losing to teams like Monmouth and Charleston Southern. Liberty’s disappointing loss to winless Rutgers in 2019 makes me a bit nervous, but I believe Liberty is the deserving favorite this Saturday.

While this game could go either way, the Flames and the Orange are headed in opposite directions. My pick: Liberty’s momentum will carry the Flames to victory over a reeling and injury-plagued Syracuse team.

Final score: Liberty 24, Syracuse 20.