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Optimist vs. Pessimist: Syracuse’s Non-Con Slate is Toughest in Nation

Sporting News has confirmed what we already knew about Syracuse’s football non-conference schedule: it’s brutal. But SN even took things a step further, saying SU’s non-conference slate is the toughest in the nation.

That should be both impressive and disturbing for Orange fans. We all knew the schedule was tough, but to see it beat out the other top BCS schedules for this dubious distinction is eye opening.

Is the treacherous schedule something to get excited about or something to fear? The Fizz breaks down the positives and negatives of the Orange’s ridiculously rigorous non-conference foray.

Reasons for Optimism

  • Non-Conference schedule will stir up excitement

Who gives a crap if you beat Akron or Tulane? No one. Beyond the obligatory FCS contest against Stony Brook, the Orange will exclusively play games against opponents from BCS conferences. Teams it will receive praise for beating, but not shame for losing to or playing a close game against. These are exciting opponents in good environments that will be sure to pique the interest of fans, providing the Orange stays afloat (emphasis on the previous five words). USC at MetLife, Missouri in Columbia, a chance for revenge against Minnesota on the road, and a home clash against Northwestern. The last time Syracuse squared off against the Golden Gophers and the Wildcats in 2009, both games had crazy, down to the wire finishes.

  • Positive impact on recruiting

Excitement surrounding a program usually goes hand in hand with recruiting, as should be the case here. As long as the Orange doesn’t embarrass itself, playing on a big stage will be an advantage for Doug Marrone’s recruiting efforts. New York City players present and future are pumped about the opportunity to play at MetLife Stadium. And if Syracuse exceeds expectations during non-conference play, it will surely raise its national profile.

  • Some of the games are still very winnable

It’ll be tough, but surviving the non-conference schedule is doable for the Orange. You can probably go ahead and mark down USC and Mizzou as losses already, but Minnesota has had one winning season in the last six years, including back-to-back 3-9 records the last two seasons. If Stony Brook isn’t an automatic victory, then we’ll just move on to basketball season right then and there. Northwestern is the toss-up game on the schedule. With wins against Minnesota and Stony Brook, SU will have to go 4-3 in the Big East to qualify for a bowl game. With an additional win against Northwestern, SU will only have to go 3-4 to be bowl eligible. Either way, it’s certainly possible for Syracuse to perform .500 or better in the Big East.

Reasons for Pessimism

  • There is no safety net

The Orange’s schedule is similar to driving 65 mph around the dangerous bend in the photograph above. It might survive and have a badass story to tell its friends, but it also could crash and burn. Syracuse will play several winnable non-conference games, but with the exception of Stony Brook, all of SU’s opponents could easily get the better of the Orange. Despite an awful end to last year, Marrone isn’t on the hot seat yet (especially with a commitment from Ebenezer Ogundeko). But find me a coach whose team goes 2-10 or 3-9 who isn’t at least in the vicinity of the axe. Non-conference schedules are usually intended to prevent disaster. But Syracuse’s slate enables a possible disastrous season.

  • This is a pointless exercise

Jim Boeheim and many other college basketball coaches pad their early season schedules with mid-majors because they feel their conference schedules are tough enough to earn the respect of the NCAA Selection Committee. But some teams put a few difficult non-conference foes on their schedules in order to boost their tournament resume. Such a tactic serves no purpose for Marrone. If Syracuse football was competing for a National Championship in the weak Big East, it would stand to benefit by playing USC and Missouri. The Trojans and Tigers could make the difference in the computer rankings. However, there is virtually no chance SU will compete for a National Title. The best the Orange can do is ensure that it makes a bowl game. The top way to do that is to play cupcakes in September.

Partially because of its own doing and partially because West Virginia bolted from the Big East, Syracuse must grind through a grueling non-conference schedule in order to return to a bowl game.

Posted: Andrew Kanell

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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