The Syracuse Orange head down to Tampa, Fla. on Saturday with the hopes of earning a victory over the USF Bulls. A win would (SHOULD WE GET IT -- NOT JINXING IT) move SU to 4-1 on the season. It may not seem like a major accomplishment, but for a program coming off a 3-9 finish in 2014, we can celebrate these small steps.
It also ends up that Syracuse -- mired in a 15-year stretch of middling returns, as you know -- doesn't reach this plateau an awful lot. Or hasn't done so much in the last 25 years, anyway. A look at the six instances since 1990:
|2010||Akron, Maine, Colgate, USF||Washington||(8-5), Pinstripe Bowl|
|1999||Toledo, Central Michigan, West Virginia, Tulane||Michigan||(7-5), Music City Bowl|
|1995||North Carolina, Minnesota, Rutgers, Temple||East Carolina||(9-3), Gator Bowl|
|1994||Cincinnati, Rutgers, East Carolina, Virginia Tech||Oklahoma||(7-4), No Postseason|
|1992||East Carolina, Texas, Louisville, Rutgers||Ohio State||(10-2), Fiesta Bowl|
|1991||Vanderbilt, Maryland, Florida, Tulane||Florida State||(10-2), Hall of Fame Bowl|
The biggest takeaways:
- When starting 4-1, Syracuse has won at least seven games on the year every time.
- Five of these six seasons ended in a bowl game.
- The Orange have only started 4-1 ONCE in the last 16 years.
- Nearly all of these seasons featured two or more "lesser" opponents to start the season (non-conference or otherwise).
That last one's a sticking point for me, obviously. But it bears repeating, especially given the results above. Starting 4-1 is critical to bowl eligibility. Bowl eligibility is critical to getting more practices for players, keeping fan interest and getting better recruits. Those things all lead to Syracuse getting back to being a program that can win eight or nine games per year with some sort of regularity.
Without even digging into the actual numbers from teams across the country, one would assume that something like 80 percent of power conference schools that start 4-1 make it to the postseason. Maybe it's an even higher number. So with a goal of making a bowl game (six wins), why not put yourself in the enviable position of needing to win just two of your final seven games? Or put differently, why not set yourself up to easily win six and then strive for more? You don't even need to schedule the trail of the dead on the 2010 schedule to do it. This year's slate works just fine too.
This shouldn't be taken as another instance of me standing on my soapbox on scheduling. Nor should it be viewed as a case of looking ahead. A quick glance above shows that we're not in position to do so at all. Right now, focusing on the next game alone, I hope we win. And I hope we get to a 4-1 start, because of what that's meant for this program in the past. The Bulls are a formidable opponent (even Vegas thinks so!), and we'll have our hands full. But win, and we're in a pretty rosy spot. Not the end of the road, by any means. But those fever dreams you're having about this season may start to enter reality.