It’s a favorite pastime of Syracuse fans, columnists, bloggers, and message board enthusiasts. Over the last couple years I’ve tried my best to avoid the subject simply because other people cover it so thoroughly that it would feel like pure redundancy. But a couple days ago, a column was published by the Daily Orange that’s gained some traction among the Syracuse fanbase, for varying reasons.
Yes, folks, I’m going to wade into the dangerous waters of football scheduling.
Now before we begin, let me make it abundantly clear that I’m not going after this Daily Orange writer or his column, really; it’s a well written piece, but it also suggests that the author may be fairly new to Syracuse football or doesn’t have a wide enough grasp of the way college football scheduling is typically done.
The general premise of the column, if you haven’t read it, is that Syracuse should stop scheduling FCS programs like Central Connecticut and find better opponents to help build the program and pack the Carrier Dome. That’s nice in theory, and all, but it’s a flawed premise for a couple reasons.
The first flaw in the premise is that to be a big-time program, you shouldn’t play FCS schools. But if you look around the nation, it’s not just common, but basically expected that Power 5 schools will play an FCS school on an almost yearly basis. No, not every program does… but an awful lot of the big boys do.
Florida State will play Delaware State later this year. Alabama has Mercer on their schedule. Clemson will take on Citadel. Washington has Montana coming up next. That’s four of the top 10 teams in the current AP poll, playing FCS opponents this year.
LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Washington State, South Florida, Florida, TCU, and Indiana State are all in the AP top 25 right now. They all play an FCS opponent this year. That means 16 of the current top 25 – 64% – play the same type of opponent Syracuse faced off against on Friday night.
Now, the counterargument may be that those schools have earned the right, with regard to relevancy, to still put asses in seats no matter which schools they bring in. And there’s validity to that. But there’s also a Catch-22 scenario involved when it comes to football scheduling. In order to gain relevance, you have to gain wins. That’s how recruiting improves, and that’s how you build a program. But in order to gain wins, you have to schedule some wins. In a world in which just about everyone makes a bowl, and six wins are needed – with an FCS win counting toward bowl eligibility – a program trying to pull itself up out of the dirt is foolish not to take what should be a guaranteed victory.
And that brings us to the second flaw in the premise presented in the Daily Orange: Syracuse has tried – for YEARS – to push itself toward relevancy by playing a bunch of big name schools. Scheduling teams like LSU, USC, and Notre Dame may sound great in terms of television revenue and exposure, but when you’re a program that hasn’t been particularly successful since the turn of the century, it’s hardly the way to build the program. You’re not making Syracuse relevant by playing USC on national television and losing by three touchdowns; you’re making potential recruits see Syracuse as a perennial loser.
Now, I’m about to do something I never thought I’d do. It pains me to do it. But… I’m going to praise Rutgers.
I know, I can’t believe it either. I hate Rutgers. Despise the school. When I first made this site a few years back, as I was putting in relevant links to various other places around the web, I included a link to Rutgers… and the link took you directly to a picture of a filthy public toilet. I spent my 19th birthday in the car on my way to my grandmother’s funeral, while listening to Syracuse football lose to Rutgers in what, at the time, was an unheard of turn of events. So, yeah. I hate Rutgers.
But in hindsight, a big part of what I always knocked them for is exactly what Syracuse needs to be doing to get some relevancy again. Back when Greg Schiano took over, Rutgers changed the way the did things with regard to scheduling. Schiano did precisely what I want Syracuse to do: he started scheduling wins rather than just trying to put together a high profile schedule. And it worked, too. Suddenly Rutgers was going to a bowl game every year, and under Schiano, rose to a consistent fringe-top 25 program.
Recruits don’t care about who you beat, for the most part. They just look at the number in the win column, and if it’s 3 or 4, they’re probably not going to be particularly impressed that the number in the loss column includes big-time programs like USC and Notre Dame.
We’re at a point in Syracuse football history that we can’t rely on our past relevancy anymore. Recruits these days don’t remember a time when Syracuse was good. They’re literally too young to recall the last time the Orange were in the top 25 (at the end of the 2001 season, when the team went 10-3 thanks largely to Dwight Freeney’s unbelievable season).
There are a lot of things that need to be done in order to restore Syracuse to relevance, and to fill the Carrier Dome. Some steps have been taken in the right direction. For starters, an exciting style of play has been implemented, and if the wins start coming, it’ll get the fans back in the seats. But we need to get those wins. Wins aren’t the only thing that will boost attendance, of course. Over at NunesMagician.com they wrote about some of the things that could help with attendance, and I agree pretty much point by point.
But attendance is just one part of the equation in regaining relevancy. And for better or worse, so is scheduling FCS opponents and making it that much easier to get back to bowl games on a yearly basis. Until Syracuse can start guaranteeing at least 6 wins per season, we shouldn’t even be talking about what it’ll take to become relevant again, because it’s just not going to happen if we spend more time thinking about who we play than whether or not we can chalk them up in the win column.