Orange Watch: Eliminate FCS opponents from the Syracuse football schedule

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Sep 18, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange defensive lineman Cody Roscoe (18) sacks Albany Great Danes quarterback Jeff Undercuffler (13) during the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Item: As No. 25 Syracuse (4-0) gets set to host FCS member Wagner (0-3) Saturday afternoon in the Dome (5:00 p.m. ET / ACCNX or ESPN+), it’s worth noting that SU is 16-0 all-time in meetings against either NCAA IA or FCS classification foes, in what’s known as a “buy game” or “guarantee game.” The purpose of scheduling these games is simple; the mutual benefit of the won/loss record for Syracuse and the financial windfall for the opposition.

The NCAA split Division I football programs in 1978, initialing creating the I and IA classifications, before renaming them in 2006 as the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). For Syracuse in games versus IA or FCS opponents there’s only been two close calls.

The first nail-biter was in 2011, a 21-14 win over Rhode Island not decided until a fourth quarter SU touchdown and the ‘Cuse defense causing a turnover on the final URI drive.

The other game was the 2014 season opener against Villanova. The 27-26 double overtime victory was aided by ‘Nova missing a straight on, 25-yard field with 0:12 left in regulation, an Orange fake field goal turned touchdown pass in the second overtime, then the ‘Cuse defense subsequently smothering the Wildcats potential game-winning two-point conversion run to end matters.

While wins in games versus FCS opponents help towards bowl eligibility, the downside is they are rarely competitive and for the most part do not draw large crowds. The composite score in Syracuse’s 16 games against subdivision teams is 45-13, and the average announced attendance for those matchups is 36,139.

That brings us to Saturday’s game against Wagner, which has the unhallowed distinction of having dropped 23 straight games dating back to 2019, the longest current losing streak in all of Division I.

Syracuse announced the Wagner contest on June 24, 2020 during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no doubt the guarantee was in the range of $400,000. Last season, as reported by Syracuse.com, Syracuse paid Albany $360,000 for its 62-24 victory, and SU paid Central Connecticut State $390,000 in 2017, a 50-7 final score.

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Wagner has already played one Power Five road contest this season to add to its athletic department coffers, falling at Rutgers 66-7 on September 10, and it was an expensive victory according to NJ.com which reviewed the game contract.

Rutgers paid Wagner a $425,000 appearance guarantee, plus travel expenses for the round-trip bus ride from Staten Island to Piscataway, N.J. including 50 hotel rooms for the traveling party, along with 400 complimentary tickets and the use of one suite at SHI Stadium.

Moving forward as conferences, including the ACC, renegotiate TV contracts, there will likely be a push for additional league games during the regular season, and out-of-conference games limited to FBS members, preferably with one game against another Power 5 team.

Syracuse already has future scheduled games with FCS members Colgate next season, New Hampshire in 2026, and Morgan State in 2029, so it will be interesting to see if all of those games come to fruition.

With ESPN’s Matchup Predictor saying Syracuse is 99.8% certain to defeat Wagner, it provides an interesting scenario for Dino Babers to keep his players mentally strong.

“We need to focus on Wagner, and then we need to focus on ourselves,” Babers said Monday at his weekly press conference about the last game before the Saturday off date on October 8.

“We need to continue that because we will not get another break. The NCAA limits the amount of time we’re allowed to have with them (the players), and we’ve got to make sure we use every amount of that time to the best of our ability on (our weaknesses), or (areas) we want to get stronger.”

Another highlight of what Syracuse will gain by beating the Seahawks is to get out to a 5-0 start for the first time since the magical 1987 team went 11-0. Anytime a current SU football squad can be mentioned in the same sentence as the ’87 squad, it is a big boost for the program.

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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.