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How to Save Syracuse Football in Three Seasons, Part III: What Will Work

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In the final part of our three-part series, we reveal the one viable, short-term solution to pointing Syracuse football in the right direction.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Part I - What Doesn't Work (Tuesday)

Part II - What May Work (Wednesday)

Part III - What Will Work (Thursday)

Only a Sith deals in absolutes. If the Star Wars prequels taught us anything, it's that. Plus, that George Lucas should not be allowed to write things anymore.

College football may seem like one long running absolute but it's actually not. While the top programs seem to have always been the top programs, it's simply not the case. Each of them has had their own peaks and valleys and they continue to do so from now until college football ends when the NFL finally decides to start their own minor league system.

Anyway, the point is, there will come a time when Florida State and Clemson are not the cream of the crop in the ACC. Probably sooner than you think. Clemson will have an off year, it'll throw off their recruiting, the wheels will come off, Dabo will be fired and then they'll wander the desert for a few years before eventually returning to the top of the pile. It is the way of things in college football.

But for now, since we're here to discuss the short-term, let's work with how the landscape looks right now. Specifically, the landscape of the Syracuse Orange football schedule.

Every year from now on, or at least until the ACC changes again, we will play the Florida State Seminoles, Clemson Tigers, Louisville Cardinals, N.C. State Wolfpack, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Boston College Eagles and Pittsburgh Panthers. This is non-negotiable.

In the here and now, it is very safe to assume that Syracuse is likely to go 0-3 against FSU, Clemson & Louisville in the foreseeable future. Yes, this is college football and crazy upsets are bound to happen. Sure, we've beaten Louisville plenty of times and we played Clemson tough this year. But let's tread on likelihoods right now. The likelihood that we will beat any of those teams in any given season are extremely low.

I'd love to tell you that we *should* beat the Pittsburgh Panthers and Boston College Eagles every season but you and I know that's no guarantee. It's not like their programs are any worse off than us. Pitt has a way of beating us even when they're not supposed to. The Eagles have leapfrogged us, at least in the short-term, and should be expected to beat us as often as we beat them, if not more. So let's say that in any given season we can expect to split these two games.

As for NC State and Wake Forest, I'm going to basically echo what I just wrote about Pitt & BC. On paper, we should always beat Wake Forest. At least in the here and now. As for NC State, as we've seen in the last two seasons, it's a toss-up. So, again, we'll call it a draw and say we can expect to split these two games.

2-5

That's the "any given season" record that the current edition of the Syracuse football team takes with it into an ACC season against the teams it absolutely, positively has to play every season. You and I might expect more and might think we should win more, but a balanced opinion would come to this conclusion.

Every season, Syracuse also plays another school from the ACC Coastal. This year it was Duke, whom we lost to. Last year it was Georgia Tech, whom we lost to. Next season it's Virginia, followed by Virginia Tech in 2016, Miami in 2017, UNC in 2018 and so on and so forth (ACC schedule through 2024 here).

In this moment, given everything you know, can you pencil that slot in as a W and feel safe about it? No, you can't. We happened to get two of the tougher Coastal opponents out of the way in the first two years, but just because VT is down and Miami isn't 2001 Miami, that doesn't make us feel like we've got this one in the bag. If we're being pragmatic and using the real-world results of the last two season, we have to chock this game up as a big fat L.

2-6

That's the presumed record that Syracuse Football, the current version of Syracuse Football, takes into every season. Right now we're exactly on schedule with a 1-5 ACC record and two games to go. There's a reasonable chance we could finish 2-6 and there's a reasonable chance we could finish 1-7. Regardless, let's work with this knowledge.

If we work with the understanding that we are likely to be 2-6 in ACC play, that makes non-conference scheduling extremely black and white. It couldn't be more clear what our non-conference strategy should be and has to be.

We have to schedule non-conference games that give us the highest percentage chance of going 4-0.

That's it. Simple, right?

Apparently not. Let's go back to Part I of the series where we talks about how DOC Gross likes to schedule non-conference games:

"I'm coming to college to play ball. I wanna play against the best people you can play. We're not trying to be suicidal, but we are trying to grow the program the right way. So going forward, strength of schedule is gonna be a consideration."

This is borne out with non-conference games against traditional powers such as Iowa, Washington, USC, Penn State, Notre Dame and the upcoming LSU series. And as we pointed out in Part I, Syracuse is 1-9 in those games since 2007.

The one we won? We beat a Charlie Weis-coached team, so, that hardly counts.

Other than that freak win, we lose this game. Every. Single. Time. It is as close to a guaranteed loss as there is.

It is exactly the kind of game that Syracuse, with it's need to go 4-0 in non conference play, does not need and does not require.

Let's take a step back for a moment and talk about the value of playing non-conference games against elite programs. As an example, let's look at the upcoming series with the LSU Tigers.

1. It Boosts SOS - This is very true. Syracuse will once again have a very strong strength of schedule thanks to this game. But...what does that matter? SOS only matters to schools who are trying to impress playoff committee members. After that, bowls decide who they pick and they don't care about SOS. They care about a whole bunch of factors when choosing between schools but they absolutely do not consider who played a tougher schedule. It's irrelevant to a school in Syracuse's position.

2. It Gets Syracuse on National TV - This is also very true. These games will be nationally-televised. College football fans across the nation will watch the Orange take on the Tigers. And they will almost certainly watch Syracuse lose. Given what we know about the level of talent and athletes that LSU attracts, they will watch Syracuse lose badly. They will watch Syracuse confirm for them what they already knew...that Syracuse isn't very good.

3. It Puts Us In Front Of Local Recruits - This is true, I suppose. Although, Syracuse rarely gets any recruits from the Deep South (Florida-aside). It does send a signal to the usual SU recruits that you'll get the chance to play schools like LSU. But is that a deal-breaker in and of itself? Not sure about that. Especially if we're gonna lose 52-10.

4. It Puts Butts in the Seats in the Carrier Dome - Does it? Syracuse fans are fickle. Yes, we are. It is nice to see LSU come to the Dome instead of MetLife and I'm sure it will be one of the highest-attended home games of 2015. But will we sell out? Nope. Have years of going to the Dome only to watch Syracuse lose games against quality opponents made some fans think "what's the point?" You betcha.

There are probably other reasons you schedule a home-and-home with LSU but I'm reasonably sure you can prove they don't do anything positive for Syracuse, unless we're getting some kind of financial boost by playing there. That's possible.

The counter-argument can be found by looking at the 2015 non-conference schedule, which is set.

09/05 - Rhode Island
09/19 - Central Michigan
09/26 - LSU
10/10 - at USF

The schedule defender would tell you this is a perfect non-conference schedule. An FCS game, an easy MAC game, a game against a very beatable FBS team and a game against an elite program. It's the kind of non-conference schedule you could expect to go 3-1 against and feel good about yourself.

But Syracuse can't afford to feel good about that. A 3-1 record against that foursome gets Syracuse to a 5-7 record at the end of the year. That's not good enough. That's not good enough to qualify for a bowl game. That's not good enough to get all those bonus December practices. That's not good enough for the kind of exposure and growth this program needs.

So, then, what's the point of playing LSU?

Instead, what if we took out LSU and plugged in, say, Purdue?

Your first reaction is, "Oof, that is a dog of a non-conference schedule."

Your second reaction is, "Syracuse would totally go 4-0 against that schedule."

And that's when the f***ing bell rings.

If Syracuse wants to start building itself little-by-little to the point where a bowl game is no longer a goal but a given, the easiest solution is to create a non-conference schedule that is as easy, winnable and boring as humanely possible.

"But no one will show to the Dome to watch those teams."

Well, your choices are, go to the Dome and watch Syracuse lose by 20+ to a team with a good Q rating or go to the Dome and watch Syracuse win.

"But we'll get made fun of for having such a crap schedule."

Who cares? Kansas State built their entire program on embarrassing non-conference schedules and Bill Snyder is diefied these days. Baylor has become a top-tier program for a lot of reasons but part of the way they lifted themselves out of the Big 12 basement was by ensuring themselves some easy wins to pad their numbers. Almost every SEC school plays an absolutely atrocious non-conference schedule because they know it doesn't matter cause they have enough challenges in conference play. Remember Rutgers's pitiful string of non-conference games against the likes of Howard and Norfolk State? We're the only ones who do. All anyone else knows is that Rutgers started winning a few more games than they used to.

So what should Syracuse's four-game non-conference schedule look like? We are required to play at least one power conference team every season. The agreement with Notre Dame means the Irish will be on the schedule every few years, so there's nothing we can do about that. But, otherwise, Syracuse should be scouring the other major conferences for the worst of the worst and locking them up for home-and-homes.

So we've got...

  • Bad Power Conference School. Those options include Iowa State, Kansas, Purdue, Indiana, Colorado, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.
  • One FCS School. And not a good one like Villanova. A mediocre one, at best. Who cares? We don't get any credit for beating a "better" FCS school? Lock Colgate in and move on.
  • One MAC School. You can mix and match but keep away from Northern Illinois. When in doubt, stick to the directional Michigans, Akron, Kent State and UMass.
  • Army. Is there anything more common sense than this? They're in New York. They're terrible. They give you tons of excuses to trot our your Fort Drum PR blitz. And if they're busy, schedule Navy. But preferably, Army.

It's not pretty. It's not gonna wow anyone. But it's a very good road to 4-0 and that's all that matters right now.

Why is that all that matters right now?

Because winning solves everything.

Winning Solves Everything.

WINNING.

SOLVES.

EVERYTHING.

Want to get more fans in the Dome? Winning solves that.

Want ESPN to showcase more of our games? Winning solves that.

Want to attract better recruits? Winning solves that.

Want to increase Syracuse's chances to compete in the ACC? Winning solves that.

Doesn't matter how. Doesn't matter who you beat. If you win more football games, everything else will come from that.

WINNING. SOLVES. EVERYTHING.

Turn a 5-7 season into a 6-6 season. Turn a 6-6 season into a 7-5 season. All of a sudden, that assumed 2-6 ACC record is an assumed 4-4 ACC record. All of a sudden it's not a question of bowl eligibility, it's a question of which bowl we go to. A couple things break right and you find yourself near the top of the ACC Atlantic standings one time. Maybe you step back next year but a step back still means bowl game.

And THAT'S when you put LSU or USC or Penn State back on the schedule. Because now you might actually beat them. And all of a sudden the misery of watching SU lose by 20 on national TV is replaced with watching Syracuse shock everyone with a victory over the No. 7 team in the nation.

This plan is not bulletproof. Syracuse could certainly lose some of those "gimme" games. Hell, we should have lost to Villanova earlier this year. All I'm saying is that by scheduling this way, you give yourself the best possible opportunity to win every one of those games.

We've put money ahead of results. This is nothing new. We all know that kind of thinking is how college football works and has worked for some time now. That kind of thinking is why we're in the ACC instead of the AAC, so it's not entirely a bad thing. But we can't sacrifice results for money ALL THE TIME. Sometimes we need to think about the importance of winning the actual games that this billion-dollar industry revolve around.

Do that, and the money will roll in even faster. It's a strange-sounding concept but it'll work.

As noted, the 2015 OOC schedule is already set. The 2016 schedule includes Notre Dame, USF and Colgate. That fourth game needs to be a winnable MAC game. It most certainly cannot be a game against a Big Ten school, though that's a distinctly-possible opponent given what we've seen in recent years. 2017 features games against LSU and CMU. In 2018, Notre Dame comes back around. So...it's gonna be a while before we could implement this kind of scheduling...

Of course, I'm assuming that's even an option. It's probably not. Syracuse is probably going to continue lining the schedule with games like these. Maryland's not quite as bad. While Penn State isn't the Penn State of old, they're still Penn State, and will be in 2020 and 2021.

So, really, we'll never know if this scheduling could do the job I'm claiming it could. Barring some serious contract-breakage, it will remain a dream.

Unfortunately, it looks like a Syracuse football program that consistently wins will remain that way as well...

Go read Part I and Part II of the series if you missed them.