John Wildhack was introduced as Syracuse’s new Director of Athletics on Tuesday, and he answered several questions at his press conference. Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com inquired about SU’s football scheduling, for which Wildhack will be at least partially responsible.
The program’s scheduling has been shaky, at best — wildly inconsistent, overly ambitious, and frustratingly late. In 2010, the Orange’s non-conference slate featured two FCS opponents (Colgate and Maine). Two years later, four of Syracuse’s contests outside the Big East came against USC (loss), Northwestern (loss), Minnesota (loss), and Missouri (win, although the Tigers finished just 5-7 in 2012).
For this upcoming season, eight of Syracuse’s 12 opponents are projected to be in the top 41 of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, including three in the top 11. So while the Orange should improve under new head coach Dino Babers, the team may have to wait to qualify for a bowl game.
In recent years, SU has waited until what felt like the last minute to fill out the nonconference slate, and unless Wildhack makes it a priority, don’t expect that to change anytime soon. At the moment, Syracuse has currently scheduled just nine non-conference games through 2024; among Power Five schools, only Arkansas has confirmed fewer matchups, and most programs have solidified at least half of their schedules for the next eight seasons (16 of 32 total non-conference games).
Carlson’s question focused on the recently-scheduled Middle Tennessee game for Week 2 of the 2017 campaign (the Orange has yet to tab an opponent for the season-opener) and whether the Blue Raiders represent a shift toward setting up games against weaker opponents.
“I really want to sit down with Coach Babers, and get his perspective on it, because, obviously, you want to compete at a high level,” Wildhack responded. “But you also want to put our student athletes in a position where they can have success as well.”
Translation: we want to play marquee opponents, but we don’t want to get spanked.
Instead of a strong Group of Five — American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt — team like South Florida, perhaps SU should take on a lower-profile foe from one of those conferences, such as Western Kentucky (who will be sacrificed to Alabama in Week 2 of this upcoming season) or Central Michigan (whom the Orange snuck past in last year’s most exciting home game).
Last time Syracuse made a bowl, it did so because it throttled Wagner (54-0) and Tulane (52-17) in Weeks 3 and 4 of the 2013 season. Without those easy victories against cupcake opponents, SU wouldn’t have played a 13th game.
Yes, Syracuse needs to sell tickets and fill the Carrier Dome. But given Wildhack’s experience in the sports broadcasting industry, it’s not unreasonable to expect the athletic department to pull in added revenue from television deals.
A few years from now, after Babers has (maybe) turned the program around, Wildhack can resume scheduling games against blue-chip juggernauts like LSU (2015) and Notre Dame (2014 and 2016). In the immediate future, though, the Orange should just try to pick up some wins and get back to the bowl season.