Orange Watch: Syracuse win over Villanova makes case for pre-season matchup

Item: We’ve railed about it in this column for years, the NFL does it, so does MLB, the NBA and NHL, and Jim Boeheim’s program each November, they play tune-up games before embarking on the one’s that count, something needed in college football.

The scheduling discrepancies across the FBS college football landscape are the one element that at times makes it hard to determine why one team should be ranked higher than another, and is likely to be the cause of much irritation of the Power 5 conference champion(s) that doesn’t make this season’s initial College Football Playoff semi-final on New Year’s Day.

Sure, TV (money) plays the biggest role as to when, and sometimes where, a team will play, including the ACC’s deal with ESPN for a Labor Day evening conference matchup telecast which had Miami at Louisville Monday evening and was Florida State-Pittsburgh last year, quite a jolting ACC welcome for the Panthers.

Villanova

Syracuse narrowly defeated Villanova

» Related: Syracuse escapes with win over Villanova in opener

But what sense does it make to instantly play catch up by opening a season potentially 0-1 either overall or in conference play in August, instead of playing the better odds of allowing the league’s schools to first schedule a tune up or scrimmage that doesn’t count in any standings, followed by a home game against a FCS or lower FBS school, and a likely precious victory towards the six needed for bowl eligibility?

Better to carve up more of that post-season bowl money in the conference coffers, isn’t it?

Three of the ACC’s 14 teams opened against a fellow Power 5 foe going 1-2, and it’s really five teams in that category when you count Miami and Louisville playing each other with UL victorious 31-13 Monday night, while the other nine teams went a collective 8-1 (Wake Forest lost at UL-Monroe) in their more favorable matchups at home (BC was essentially home at Foxborough against UMass).

In the case of Syracuse in its opener against an annually competitive FCS program in Villanova, let’s be frank, that 25 yard field goal by the Wildcats rookie kicker Chris Gough with :12 left in regulation was going to cause Orange Nation to jump off the Dome roof, until the kick went wide right.

The Orange was outplayed by ‘Nova until overtime, and even in the 2OT couldn’t punch the ball in from short range, and no one could have predicted the late first half ejection of QB Terrel Hunt, the one seemingly irreplaceable player based on experience at the position, forcing the unexpected baptism under fire for RF backup Austin Wilson, a complete unknown against a defense wearing a different uniform.

» Related: Syracuse picking up ground in NJ recruiting

That wouldn’t have been the case for Wilson, or AJ Long for that matter, had there been some sort of scheduled exhibition or controlled scrimmage against a FCS team from New York State, (minimize travel costs) giving the coaches their much cherished “All 22” and high end zone angles of video to evaluate all the players inserted into various game situations. How might have Wilson responded differently versus Villanova if he had previous experience against an opposing defense, even in simulated down and distance plays?

Fortunately for Syracuse, after nearly looking for a mulligan out of the gate, the finish was frantic but fruitful.

“We’re 1-0,” declared Scott Shafer leading off his postgame comments. “Was it pretty? No, it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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