Orange Watch: The most difficult opener in recent Syracuse football history

Dino Babers speaks to the media. Courtesy: CUSE TV.

Item: Dino Babers embarks on his critical seventh year running the football program with the biggest opening game challenge of his tenure. Saturday night’s matchup against ACC Atlantic Division rival Louisville in the Dome (8:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network), will say a lot about where this team is headed in 2022. Bowl game or no bowl game? There aren’t many more problematic ways to begin any season, then sitting as home underdogs against a conference opponent that’s won seven of the eight ACC meetings.

For only the second time since joining the ACC in 2013, Syracuse opens up the regular season with a conference game but it comes with an asterisk. The 2020 season’s initial contest against North Carolina materialized because of the COVID-19 pandemic playing havoc with the original schedule.

This time around the ACC decided SU-UL was to be the opening conference game on the ACC Network’s Saturday night primetime schedule, so with no choice in the matter all Babers can do is make sure his team is ready to play at the highest-level right off the bat.

“This will be a rare opportunity for us starting with a conference game,” Babers said Monday at his first in-season press conference. “It’s unusual and we’re excited about that. We’re also excited to be back at home after last year opening up on the road.”

In fact, it’s the first home opener since 2017, and hopefully a large crowd (35,000?) turns out to see what all the pre-season positive talk is about, while doing its part to be loud and disruptive towards a potent Louisville team that’s outscored Syracuse 127-37 the last three years.

“Go down 0-1 in conference, that’s a heavier weight than just losing a football game,” Babers added. “So that’s the big difference. A conference game. Thank you, ACC, we can’t wait.”

On the depth chart released Monday, there will be four players who have never started a game in their SU careers (it could end up being five depending on the punter), and a whopping 13 players listed as second string at their position who are either true or redshirt freshmen.

“The issue of having a conference game first,” Babers analyzed, “is you normally get to sift through those things (getting new starters and backups comfortable in their roles) in games two, three, and four.”

This year the staff doesn’t have that luxury.

Historically, in 22 season-opening games this century under five Syracuse head coaches, the overall record is an even 11-11 despite being skewed by playing more Power Five conference teams (13) than Mid-American Conference (plus Liberty) and FCS opponents (9).

» Related: Predicting Syracuse football’s 2022 offensive statistics

However, one trend stands out. The ‘Cuse has struggled to win close games, similar to Saturday night’s scenario with an opening point spread of Louisville -4:

  • Blowout win = 8 games
  • Close win = 3 games
  • Blowout loss = 5 games
  • Close loss = 6 games

Here is the list of the 22 season openers:

Year Opponent Result
2000 Buffalo Won convincingly 63-7
2001 Georgia Tech (at Giants Stadium) Lost narrowly 13-7
2002 at Brigham Young Lost convincingly 42-21
2003 at North Carolina Won narrowly 49-47 (3OT)
2004 at Purdue Lost convincingly 51-0
2005 West Virginia Lost narrowly 15-7
2006 at Wake Forest Lost narrowly 20-10
2007 Washington Lost convincingly 42-12
2008 at Northwestern Lost convincingly 30-10
2009 Minnesota Lost narrowly 23-20 (OT)
2010 at Akron Won convincingly 29-3
2011 Wake Forest Won narrowly 36-29 (OT)
2012 Northwestern Lost narrowly 42-41
2013 Penn State (at MetLife Stadium) Lost narrowly 23-17
2014 Villanova Won narrowly 27-26 (2OT)
2015 Rhode Island Won convincingly 47-0
2016 Colgate Won convincingly 33-7
2017 Central Connecticut State Won convincingly 50-7
2018 at Western Michigan Won convincingly 55-42
2019 at Liberty Won convincingly 24-0
2020 at North Carolina Lost convincingly 31-6
2021 at Ohio Won convincingly 29-9

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About Brad Bierman 843 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.