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).
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:
|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|