With Syracuse football kicking off this weekend, it’s time to look at the most critical matchups for the Orange this season. What games will make or break 2012 for SU?
Doug Marrone faces a daunting schedule; its non-conference slate has been ranked by many as the toughest in the nation. Couple that with a much improved Big East and that makes for one heck of a ride for the boys on the Hill.
The good news is many Syracuse players are embracing the challenge. Safety Shamarko Thomas told The Fizz at Big East Media Day the more wins SU tacks up with this schedule means more of a chance the Orange will be “put on the map.” Here are the four most important matchups for the Orange.
- Northwestern, 9/1, Carrier Dome
With such a difficult schedule, SU needs to get the ball rolling early and pile up those September wins. SU only has one bye week this season - and it’s in September. The Orange plays eight straight games to finish the year, and that’s why success is necessary against the Wildcats. Northwestern is a team that Syracuse matches up well against. With the added offensive threat of WR Marcus Sales, coupled with returning vets like Alec Lemon and Jarrod West, Ryan Nassib will look to pick apart a relatively young and mostly unproven secondary. And SU’s quicker and more agile defensive line should keep speedy dual-threat QB Kain Colter in check, who is Northwestern’s top returning leader in passing, rushing AND receiving yards from 2011. And let’s not even mention USC the following week. These early games are crucial for a team that has stumbled down the stretch of each of the last two seasons. Syracuse needs to take advantage of winnable games especially early, and it needs to start with a victory inside the Dome this weekend.
- Rutgers, 10/13, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway
Dare we even mention last season’s fiasco between these two teams inside the Carrier Dome? SU will look to avenge what was probably its sloppiest loss of 2011 down in Piscataway. Orange Nation always looked forward to beating up Greg Schiano’s bunch in the annual “rivalry” matchup, and will be just as psyched for this one. The upper echelon of the conference – which certainly includes RU – is vastly improved, even despite the loss of West Virginia to the Big 12. The Scarlet Knights are perhaps the most beatable, as they’ll be led by unproven sophomore QB Gary Nova this season. Nova passed for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Orange last October in that wacky 2OT affair.
- UConn, 10/19, Carrier Dome
This is the final game before Syracuse embarks on its ridiculous final five game stretch that includes 4 road games, one of those against powerful Missouri. The Orange needs to be at its best on a Friday night in the national spotlight. More importantly, it’ll look to capitalize off of what could be a tired Connecticut team. The Huskies play seven straight games to open up their season without a bye (the longest stretch amongst all Big East teams) and that seventh game will be at the Dome. The Syracuse faithful will also be looking forward to the return of former Paul Pasqualoni. He’ll be making his first trip back inside the Dome since 2004, his final season with SU.
- Louisville, 11/10, Carrier Dome
This is the last home game of the season, and will feature two hard nose defenses going at it for 60 brutal minutes. Louisville’s D blitzed the Orange last season down in Kentucky, but the added size and different options SU has on the defensive side of the ball will make for a better contest. This game against the Big East’s pre-season favorite is, again, smack dab in the center of Syracuse’s final five game stretch. A trip to Mizzou lingers the following week. SU has the Cardinals inside the Dome, and needs to take advantage of that home field cushion. If Syracuse wants to win 4 Big East games (which could be necessary to hit 6 wins) this game could decide it for SU. The only remaining conference game on SU’s schedule would be Temple a few weeks later. Knocking off the league’s finest does wonders for the confidence heading into a possible bowl season.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald
What do you think are the top 4 most important match ups for SU?