When the Syracuse Orange football schedule for 2016 was announced, it was a reminder of just how difficult it is to get through ACC play already. And how much more difficult SU seems to make it for themselves as well.
Along with typical divisional foes Clemson, Florida State and Louisville on the schedule already, and all challenging in their own right, the Orange play host to Virginia Tech in 2016 as well. Pitt and NC State are also annual fixtures posing varying degrees of difficulty to SU from year to year (they're 5-1 vs. SU over the last three seasons, however). All of this is not to say the Orange are doomed. Just to point out that nothing comes easy for us in this league, so why make it more difficult for yourselves when you're stuck in a 15-year run of middling returns?
Yet, in non-conference play, Syracuse HAS made it tough for themselves in that stretch. And they continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Last year and in 2017, it's LSU. This year, before the ACC scheduling mandate, it's Notre Dame (and we get them again in 2018). Maryland's a peer for 2019, but Wisconsin poses yet another challenge (in all likelihood) in 2020 and 2021.
On the bright side, however, Syracuse has at least helped its case to lock up the required Power Five non-conference opponent on its schedule through 2021. Unfortunately, it hasn't done a whole lot else.
From 2017 through 2020, the Orange have just seven of 16 opponents scheduled. Few teams have less, and two of those aren't even putting FBS teams on the field in 2016 (Coastal Carolina and UAB). SU is one of just two ACC programs to have only two spots filled for 2017, and the other (Florida State) can pretty much go out and play whichever team it wants.
Right now, Syracuse hosts Central Michigan (currently on September 16) and travels to LSU (scheduled for September 23). So who can they schedule for the other open FBS date, assuming the other's filled with an FCS team?
Six teams are available.
Assume Syracuse is looking for a home game against a Group of Five team. And is confined to September 2 or September 9 as open dates for those schools. They're left with choices of Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina, Florida International, Tulane, UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe. And considering that all but one of those six already have two road games scheduled, it may already be down to one, in the Green Wave.
WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?
And listen, Tulane's a fine opponent. We've played them before and all too. But LSU has us covered in terms of Louisiana road trips and recruiting. And of that group, we'd really want to play FIU, Coastal Carolina and Bowling Green (in that order) a whole lot more. Since SU's slow to move on filling out its schedules, though, this is where we end up. We could also end up with Arizona -- something I conveniently leave out above -- but I'm trying to be mildly optimistic.
Without boring you with ALL the details (don't worry, I spent several hours in a spreadsheet detailing who's left out just for my own torment), Syracuse has already put itself in a tough spot for 2018 too. And if past results are any indication, the empty spaces for 2019 (two) and 2020 (three) will sit there until they're forced to do something like schedule a home-and-home with Alabama. You think I'm joking. But (okay, fine) look at this damn spreadsheet.
If we let 2018 stand pat as-is, there are only 23 teams looking for a P5 opponent -- and that's before we assess the actual dates of the games and whether they're at home or on the road. That also includes five P5 teams, which we'd like to hopefully avoid. So, Syracuse, you're already on the clock for 2018. You've got no more than 18 teams to choose from, and while you "have" over 30 months to fill those spaces... we both know that's not really the case. For my sanity and health, please find some way to both complete a schedule early AND make things more manageable for the team to succeed.
With luck, Dino Babers will have Syracuse averaging a healthy six or seven wins within two years. If he's not there, you can probably point to the schedule as a potential culprit. And if he is, I'd point to the schedule again for why he's not at eight or nine.