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How to construct Syracuse football’s non-conference schedule going forward

We talked history. Now let’s discuss the future.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in peak offseason, so I’m just going to stick to what I know: Football scheduling.

Fully acknowledging that I’m a big fan of the Syracuse Orange’s recent shift to more manageable schedules in terms of quality of opponents, there’s still plenty of work to be done to set up a bright future for SU — whether that includes Dino Babers long-term or not (and hopefully it does). While we’re ahead compared to where Syracuse has been of late, scheduling continues to get pushed further and further out. That’s likely to squeeze programs like the Orange that aren’t necessarily brand names and don’t sit in big recruiting areas.

But rather than paint a lot of gloom and doom around that potential scenario, we can instead come up with a bit of a shortcut to potentially locking up a lot of future games in a short period. Obviously there needs to be an agreement between two schools to make these future games happen. But at the very least, we can narrow things down to the schools worth reaching out to. After all, there are 129 other FBS programs, plus plenty more FCS squads out there.

So without looking fully into future availability for these teams or anything like that, here are the four categories each opponent should fall into, with a short list of teams that qualify.

NCAA Football: Wagner at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

FCS home game

This one’s pretty self explanatory. Cupcake pay game at the Dome against an opponent that doesn’t have to travel very far, so we can avoid an enormous expense. A look at recent non-conference opponents give you the basic script of who these teams would be. But the likely list that we should rotate around for the foreseeable future:

Albany, Central Connecticut, Colgate, Delaware, Duquesne, Fordham, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, Maine, Marist, Monmouth, New Hampshire, Robert Morris, St. Francis, Stony Brook, Towson, Villanova, Wagner

Even that list is probably too long, to be honest. I’d probably just put a rotation on of Albany, CCSU, Colgate, Holy Cross, Stony Brook and Wagner... almost all of the FCS teams we’ve played or will play over the last decade or so.

Power Five home-and-home

Per current ACC scheduling rules, every team needs to have an additional P5 on the slate on top of the eight conference games per year. That means Notre Dame a lot of the time, per the Irish’s agreement with the league. But there are other years in there that require P5 foes, and we already have a couple of those figured out (2020/21 with Rutgers, 2022/23 with Purdue). With big name P5s scheduling out a good two decades, though, it’s probably best we lock up opponents sooner rather than later.

Without putting an end date on this, that list of non-Notre Dame P5s probably includes:

Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, West Virginia

If you really want to, feel free to add Oregon State, Iowa State and Colorado from a competitive standpoint. However, I’m trying to focus things in on both games that work in terms of not just scheduling losses and also games that give us access to some sort of meaningful recruiting area. There are also the exceptions to that, though. Kansas for an easier win. Penn State and West Virginia for selling tickets and pretending we’re still rivals. Vanderbilt because people like visiting Nashville.

Still, I’d be shocked and potentially concerned if the next announced P5 team on a future schedule came from outside of this group.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A MAC team

Syracuse has faced a MAC team nearly every year since 2005, with the exceptions being 2012 and 2013, plus 2016. Looking out ahead, we’re facing MAC teams almost every year from 2019 through 2024, with 2022 serving as the lone exception right now (and realistically, that can still get filled with a MAC squad too since we have two openings).

MAC teams work pretty well for what Syracuse needs, since it keeps the Orange exposed to quality Midwest recruits (something the ACC doesn’t) and also doesn’t cost much to travel to most of them. If we’re not facing Big Ten teams in non-conference play (sorry Maryland and Rutgers, you don’t really count), this is a decent substitute.

Not all MAC squads are created equal, however. I’d lump them into three categories:

Who you want to play: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Kent State, Miami (OH), Ohio

Sure: Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan

Prefer not to: Buffalo, Northern Illinois, Toledo

Tier one’s almost every Ohio school, plus a very winnable game against Ball State. Tier two is the directional Michigans, who are fine and we’ve played them (save EMU) a lot lately so it’s also a bit tired. NIU and Toledo are in tier three because they always seem to be in good shape and no need to risk anything here if you can avoid. Buffalo’s there because scheduling the Bulls only stands to hurt us with Northeast kids if they play us close or even manage to pull an upset. Not running from teams. Just pointing out there’s no benefit there, win or lose.

Also, maybe we go back to getting these two-for-one? No guarantees, obviously. But with Dome renovations wrapped up soon, and SU wanting to get seven home games per year, seems we’d push for that.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at North Texas Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Advantageous recruiting area G5

This one we’ve seen a little bit of from time to time (even Liberty checks that box, begrudgingly). You could also sub in Army, I suppose, instead if you wanted to do something local and appease fans — though it’s probably best to make that move as a MAC substitute instead.

While we get to North Carolina every year, and South Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania every other, we don’t see much of Georgia or Virginia due to the ACC’s divisional alignment. In ideal world, you face a Virginia or Georgia G5 when we get Florida State on the road. And the years we get the ‘Noles at home, you schedule a G5 in Florida.

Ideally, here’s who you’re picking from each season:

  • Florida Atlantic, Florida International (years we’re not at FSU)
  • Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Old Dominion (years we’re at FSU)
  • Coastal Carolina (years we’re not at Clemson)
  • Temple (years we’re not at Pitt)

That’s a pretty small group, admittedly, and we’re far from the only team to want to prioritize the same collection. I’m not opening that list further to USF and UCF because they have similar talent levels to Syracuse. However, either checks the box if absolutely needed.

Secondary schools we could add include Liberty (oof), UMass (sure), Charlotte or Appalachian State (I guess). Navy’s not on this list because they already have three non-conference obligations every year. I’m leaving Cincinnati off because a MAC school does the same thing.

There’s also the Texas approach, which could potentially pay dividends for the system we run. If you want to go that route (and I’m certainly not opposed), a) be prepared to pay since those schools don’t want to come to New York and b) you’re targeting North Texas, Rice, SMU, Texas State or UTSA.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Before anyone asks when we’re going to upgrade the non-conference schedule, assuming the program keeps improving, I’d implore you to look at the schedules of teams that typically make the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six. There are some exceptions in there, sure. But a team that loses one or zero games in a P5 league is playing in one of the big money games. It doesn’t matter who you played to get there (also, with several of those teams scheduling harder foes, there could be new opportunities to jump ahead).

So why not make it easier on ourselves forever? We’re already at a disadvantage with few blue chip recruits in-state, and sitting on a bit of an island in the ACC. So maybe worth it to just give SU a leg up where we can. More wins also equal better recruits. Those recruits definitely aren’t dissecting your non-conference schedule when making a decision.

Seem reasonable? Feel like I’m over-thinking a lot? Who are the teams you’d like to play? (and no, the “we should go back to the Big East” response is not valid here) Share your own thoughts below.