I try my best not to get drawn into Big Discussions about issues that aren't terribly important in the grand scheme but when it comes to scheduling, and Syracuse Football's apparent inability to change course on strategy, I just can't help myself.
So of course you know now that the Syracuse Orange and Wisconsin Badgers will play a pair of football games in 2020 and 2021. While that's a long ways away in college football years, it's a clear reminder that Mark Coyle is not going to take my advice and focus on scheduling "soft" in the coming years. Instead, he's going full steam ahead with the same scheduling strategy we've been using pretty much as long as I've been a Syracuse fan.
There was a time when that strategy made a lot of sense. In the late 90's, Syracuse was in the mix for top tier bowl games and national rankings and you needed a Michigan or a Tennessee on the schedule in order to claim relevancy and make your potential wins matter.
As we all know, Syracuse Football fell off a cliff in 2005 and, while we've had some decent seasons recently, we're still not entirely out of the hole that Paul Pasqualoni and Greg Robinson dug for us. As it is, Syracuse Football remains in a kind-of middle-ground stasis. The Three-Win-To-Seven-Win Zone is where we live. It could be worse, I suppose. There are programs out there would kill for three bowl games in five years. But there's also a lot of programs that used to be in that position and have since leapfrogged us.
We've talked about this plenty but I believe firmly that soft scheduling was part of how they all did it. It wasn't THE solution, but it was part of the package.
The reaction to my opinion on Thursday was all over the place but the one dissenting opinion I saw most was that Syracuse should always use The 3-1 Model. One game against a solid P5 conference opponent you probably won't beat but will get you exposure and three games against lesser opponents that you think you can beat. The 2015 season is a perfect example. LSU is the world-beater that we don't stand much of a chance against while Rhode Island, Central Michigan and South Florida are, in theory, easy wins for SU.
The theory goes that if you go 3-1 in non-conference play, then you just have to go 3-5 in conference play in order to make it to a bowl game and unlock all of the wonders that comes with that.
On paper, I agree. It's a solid strategy that worked well for Syracuse for a long time. It will probably work well for Syracuse again one day soon, potentially by the time we head to Wisconsin in 2020.
But it's not the right strategy for Syracuse Football right here and now.
I know I'm a broken record on this but I think people who underestimate the value of doing whatever it takes to go 4-0 out of conference are really missing the potential.
"Well, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best." Okay, but, we've proven pretty effectively at this point that we cannot beat the best. We are terrible at it, actually.
"Recruits don't want to play Central Michigan, they want to play Wisconsin." If that were the deciding factor, Syracuse would have the best recruiting classes in the nation right now.
"LSU and Wisconsin will pack the Dome, Rhode Island and Central Michigan won't." Why is packing the Dome for a sure-loss a better option than 30K in the Dome to watch Syracuse win a football game?
"It'll be an amazing road trip!" I agree, but again, you're valuing your experience over the fact that Syracuse is almost certainly going to lose that game by 30 points. How many times do you want to make that trip before it gets old?
Improving as a program in college football is all about momentum and Syracuse Football is notoriously bad at keeping momentum going. Greg Robinson could never do it. Doug Marrone's teams went up and down and up and down. Scott Shafer started well but things fell off a cliff last year. Every time Syracuse does well, it seems to sabotage itself and step backwards.
All I'm asking for is to take one stumbling block out of the path for a few years. That's all.
Make the road to respectability as easy as humanly possible for three years in a row. Give Syracuse the chance to go 4-0 in non-conference play and I honestly believe that will make a big difference.
One more win could be the difference between an October surge or an October swoon.
One more win could be the different between staying home and going bowling.
One more bowl game appearance could be the difference between getting a recruit and not getting a recruit.
One more winning-season might be the difference between consecutive winning seasons and following up a good year with a bad one.
So on and so forth until it's no longer a question of whether or not Syracuse is going to a bowl game but rather which bowl game we're choosing from.
And THEN you slap Wisconsin or USC or Penn State on the schedule and take your chances.
I'm not naive enough to think this solves all of Syracuse's problems. I'm saying all of this under the assumption that Syracuse is simultaneous recruiting well, coaching players up, seeing improvements on and off the field and nurturing coaching talent as well as player talent. No one became a great program just because they scheduled some cupcakes.
But you know what, go ask Duke, Baylor, Rutgers, Northwestern and Kansas State if it helped.