Orange Watch: Getting clear idea of future Syracuse football scheduling philosophy

Is Syracuse starting to pick up on Dino Babers' offense?
Future Syracuse football schedules are being built to win outside of the ACC

Item: With Monday’s announcement that Syracuse will begin play in the 2018 season on the road against a Mid American conference team in Western Michigan, the first time that will occur since opening at Akron to begin the 2010 season under Doug Marrone, the extended non-conference portion of the schedule continues to take shape into the next decade. Those annual four games, and in some seasons Notre Dame takes that spot including next in ’18 at South Bend, are comprised of one part “name” Power 5 program, one-two parts consisting of Group of 5 conference members, and one part FCS team annually booked in the Dome.

There are currently 65 teams (including Notre Dame) that make up the five Power 5 conferences, or exactly half of the number of FBS programs.

The other 65 are either independent or part of the five conferences making up the Group of 5, with the top team from those five leagues eligible for at least a spot in the six major bowl games depending on the College Football Playoff rotation (it was Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl last season), and for an undefeated season here or there, perhaps even a spot in the four team CFP.

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Until perhaps another round of conference realignment somewhere down the road, and there’s recurring talk that the Big 12 may not even be around into the 2020s with plums Texas, Oklahoma, Ok. State and TCU plucked for football and Kansas for basketball by a combination of the Pac 12, Big Ten, and even perhaps the ACC, the Orange are stuck in the Atlantic Division with Clemson and Florida State at the top, Louisville and N.C. State jousting for position, and SU aligned with the similar profiles of B.C. and Wake Forest.

It’s hard to gain traction with those built in six games each season unless there’s a continued upward trend of talent committing in the future recruiting cycles, starting with this year’s debut of the December early signing period; and the good news is so far from all indications that’s exactly where recruiting is headed in the Dino Babers regime.

Athletic director John Wildhack has indicated early in his tenure that he’s in lock-step with Babers as far as just how challenging each year’s schedule should look on paper, and the home-and-home series with Western Michigan, now coached by former Orange offensive coordinator Tim Lester, fits the bill. It also leaves SU only needing to confirm that Wagner is the FCS opponent for ’18 with Connecticut already set as the Group of 5 Dome visitor to round out the out-of-conference portion.

The 2019 OOC schedule is already set and is the perfect mix of Liberty (Gof5), Maryland (Power 5), Western Michigan (Gof5) and Holy Cross (FCS) in the Dome, although the first two games on the road could be the first time since 2013 the ‘Cuse will have started a season away from home over the first two weeks (Penn State at MetLife then at Northwestern), depending if the ACC gives SU a road game the second week of next season following the road trip to Kalamazoo.

The only other two schools on the future OOC schedules besides the previously scheduled Notre Dame games are Wisconsin (2020 and 2021) and Army (2023 and 2024) for home-and-home series.

“We have a great deal of respect for Western Michigan and the Mid-American conference,” Wildhack said Monday. “Western Michigan has a long history of success. We look forward to a competitive series.”

Translated, the two games versus the Broncos help fit the bill for completing the future non-ACC portion with a competitive chance to add wins towards a bowl game, and eventual goal of being ranked close or in the Top 25.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.