Villanova, Bye, Central Michigan, Maryland. Four weeks. Three games. Three must-wins for the Syracuse football team. Why? Because the next three games are against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.
Now, I’m not saying Cuse will win the first three and lose the subsequent three. But they’re favorites against Villanova and Central Michigan, and while Maryland will provide a challenge, it’s certainly a winnable game. And while a three-game slate against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State doesn’t necessarily mean three losses, a 1-2 record in those three games seems possible.
Which is why it’s so important for SU to get off to a strong start. Starting 3-0 will give the team confidence heading into tougher parts of the schedule. Confidence = better play, which in turn leads to more wins. Easy math.
The early schedule is doing SU a favor compared to past years. Last year, the Orange opened against Penn State and Northwestern. Back-to-back games against Big Ten foes to start the season is good experience, but it was also a couple of L’s in the loss column.
In 2012, SU opened against Northwestern and USC. Again, not easy. And again, an 0-2 start. In 2011, SU faced Wake Forest and Southern Cal in two of its first three games. USC was an automatic loss. In 2010, SU lost to Washington in its second game. In 2009, SU started 0-2 against the likes of Minnesota and Penn State.
SU has been able to win a few bowl games recently in spite of tough early season schedules. The experience has helped them.
Still, this lighter early schedule represents SU’s first real chance in a while to start 3-0. Now, I’m not saying starting 3-0 against weaker teams means anything. Sometimes it’s better to go 1-2 against good teams. But the Orange already has the experience of last season.
So it’s okay to want to beat up the easy competition. Plus, SU still has to prove itself to the ACC anyway, which will show just how legitimate Cuse is, even if there are long 2014 ACC Conference Championship Odds.
The schedule after Notre Dame, Louisville and FSU isn’t that bad. Wake Forest is winnable. Clemson will be tough. NC State is winnable. Duke is tough but winnable. And Pitt and BC are winnable. The ACC really isn’t that tough after FSU. There is a decent amount of good teams. But the Seminoles are the only real title contender.
SU must take advantage of playing in what is possibly the weakest conference of the Big 5 conferences. Plus, SU doesn’t play a true road game against an FBS opponent until Game 7 at Wake Forest. The Orange must take advantage of this favorable schedule.
And it starts by pouncing on it early.
It’s Year 2 of the Shafer regime, Year 2 of Terrel Hunt. You have to figure SU will pull one upset and be on the receiving end of an upset. But qualifying for a bowl game is expected this year. It should be a habit now to expect bowl qualification. And starting strong out of the gate will be crucial in deciding SU’s fate.