Over the last few years, Syracuse's football schedule has seemingly been in constant flux. Whether it's because West Virginia decided to go and bail on the Big East early, because we decided to bail on the Big East (/Dana O'Neill'd) or we did our own shuffling with opponents outside of those moves, the Orange always look like they're behind everybody else in the process. As of right now, we have the fewest announced future opponents of any power conference program, though apparently 2014 and 2015 are already complete. Whether that's true or not, those opponents -- and the ones for 2016 and 2017 -- have yet to be announced, so might as well speculate who they may be.
The 2014 schedule already features a home game against Maryland and a MetLife game against Notre Dame, so ideally, we're trying to pull one home and one road game to wrap up the schedule -- making for six true home games, one neutral site and five road games. We know the home game's likely to go the FCS route, so let's just pencil that in. With the country's top independent and a sort-of-B1G team accounted for though, I'd assume we're going the mid-major route for that last spot. Here's a list of mid-majors who have at least one open date:
AAC: East Carolina, Houston, Temple
C-USA: Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss
MAC: Akron, Ball State, Buffalo, Western Michigan
MWC: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah State
Sun Belt: Appalachian State, Arkansas State
... and that's it. We haven't scheduled a MAC team since the Toledo game in 2011, and honestly, considering where we've been getting recruits lately, I don't think it pays for us to go to play any of those schools, especially since at least one or two may want a return trip. There's also nothing to be gained from playing an AAC school, since a win is assumed and a loss is mocked. The MWC would want a return trip as well, and I don't think it pays to go out there unless it's for a Pac-12 market (or any Pac-12 market other than Washington State's).
So that leaves the Sun Belt schools and the C-USA schools, who are both typical scheduling partners for the ACC already. I've always been a fan of scheduling other private institutions, so I'd like to go with Rice, though Marshall currently has zero power conference schools on their slate. If we can get the Herd or Owls as a one-off, I don't see why not, though it won't be an easy win at all. If we simply want a victory, Appalachian State or Arkansas State would be a better option.
Pick: FCS, Appalachian State
Absolutely nothing's confirmed for the 2015 non-conference schedule, so we're working with a clean slate. Ideally, one of these slots is a FCS home game, with two more against power conference schools (one home, one away) that will likely want a second game in the near future. The other, once again, would be up against a Sun Belt/C-USA school more often that not. But for our sake here, we'll first toss out all the FBS schools with at least one opening for us:
AAC: Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, UCF
B1G: Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Big 12: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
C-USA: Charlotte, FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, ODU, Rice, UAB, UTEP
Independents: Army, BYU
MAC: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, NIU, Toledo, UMass, Western Michigan
MWC: Air Force, Boise State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State
Pac-12: Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington
SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Sun Belt: All but Idaho and NMSU
A lot of schools to choose from. And since we'd prefer a little history with our football, probably good to prioritize that when selecting -- except when it comes to Penn State, because we already have future matchups scheduled with them for 2020 and 2021. Again, crossing out the MWC teams (despite the prospect of playing Boise) and the Pac-12 teams too, since it's too difficult to get on their schedules with just three non-conference dates available and most of theirs filled up through 2017 or 2018. Cross of the Big 12 schools too, and every SEC school but Mizzou and Vandy. Both Army and BYU get crossed off due to already difficult schedules, and again, don't want to bother with AAC or MAC schools.
We're left with pick-your-Sun Belt/AAC opponent (I'll opt for Old Dominion as an easy home game), and then we're looking for two opponents out of Missouri, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State. I'll opt for Indiana, since we can tag the other end of the home-and-home on in 2017. The other contest should be against Missouri, since they've got plenty of room in their schedule in 2016 as well to give us the other half of a home-and-home. Plus, I think we'd all like to relive a few highlights of SU's combeack against the Tigers from last season.
Picks, to recap: Old Dominion, Indiana, Missouri, FCS
This schedule's already been filled out a little bit, since we've got Notre Dame at MetLife and the back end of the home-and-home with Missouri we just scheduled for 2015. Add in an FCS team and now we're looking at one game against a mid-major. Nearly all options are available to us, though we'll be sticking to Sun Belt and C-USA squads again. The most appealing option for a competitive game is Marshall, while the obvious sacrificial lambs are Georgia State, ODU again and Georgia Southern. Since we already have the ODU game last year, X them out. Plus, Marshall looks to be on the rise -- no ideal with ND and an SEC team already on the slate. Georgia State it is.
Picks, to recap: Missouri, Georgia State, FCS
Another clean slate, though we've already added the back end of that Indiana series, plus an FCS game, so just two slots left to fill. West Virginia's got an opening, but they're likely to go with a FCS team. Army and BYU are both around, and I'm tempted to pick them since both could present appealing matchups and attendance draws. Are we interested in Washington again? Or what about the Oregon Death Machine? Could Cal try and get back in this in football? Too many teams to choose from and a lot of reasons to go with all of them, so opening it up to the comments...
For the final two spots, we're looking for one mid-major that we don't need to pay back the game with, and one power conference team we could arrange a home-and-home with. The latter should be a bit on the challenging side.
Have at it! And feel free to reference FBSchedules as your guide (i did). I also put this handy Google Doc together, to avoid you needing to click through a million pages like I had to do. Enjoy.