Here’s How Syracuse Wound Up With The Nation’s Hardest Non-Conference Schedule

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Most FBS schools schedule non-conference opponents one of two ways.

If the program is on the upswing, it schedules a few cupcakes and one or two challenging games.

If the program is in decline, it schedules teams it knows it can beat.

Why? Because ADs either think they can compete for a national championship and want quality wins, or think they’ll struggle to make a bowl game and want easy wins.

So why then does Syracuse, which has one winning season in the past ten years, have the hardest non-conference schedule in the nation? Let’s take a look at the three reasons.

For reference, here is SU’s 2012 non-conference schedule.

9/1 – vs. Northwestern
9/8 – vs. USC (Meadowlands)
9/15 – vs. Stony Brook
9/22 – @ Minnesota
11/17 – @ Missouri

Reason #3: Syracuse has a love affair with scheduling middle-of-the-road Big Ten teams.

Iowa again? Flickr/dwhartwig

SU and Northwestern have scheduled a few home-and-home series in recent history, and 2012 is one of the years that NU comes to the Carrier Dome. While the Wildcats aren’t great (6-7 last year), they’re still a Big Ten team capable of playing well on the road.

As for Minnesota, this is the second leg of the home-and-home series (the first was at the Dome in 2009) scheduled against the Orange. It just works out that SU has the awayer in a year it really could’ve used another home game.

Usually, these are the types of schools SU schedules as its “tough” games. Take a look at Syracuse’s record between 2006-2009 vs. the Big Ten:

2006 – vs. Iowa (loss), @ Illinois (win)
2007 – @ Iowa (loss), Illinois (loss)
2008 – @ Northwestern (loss), vs. Penn State (loss)
2009 – vs. Minnesota (loss), @ Penn State (loss), vs. Northwestern (win)

Reason #2: SU’s push to become “New York’s College Team” is hurting its chances on the field.

Will they make the trek? Flickr/Neon Tammy

Case in point? USC and Syracuse scheduled a “home-and-home” for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Last year, the Orange travelled to the Coliseum to take on the Trojans, but got thumped 38-17. This year, USC travels to… the Meadowlands?

Yup. Instead of having to play in a Carrier Dome full of Orange maniacs, the Trojans instead get to play in the swamps of New Jersey. Yes, SU has a lot of fans/alumni in the tri-state area, but playing at the Meadowlands is not the same as playing a home game on-campus.

Why did SU do this? It’s simple – it’s 100% behind it’s “New York’s College Team” motto.

Reason #1: TCU and West Virginia leaving the Big East forced SU to scramble to find an opponent.

The Big East was supposed to have nine teams for the 2012 season – TCU had agreed to join on July 1st, 2012.

SU will have just five home games this year. Flickr/Mat_the_W

But then TCU got an offer from the Big 12 – a no brainer for a school located in Texas. After Syracuse and Pitt announced they’d be leaving for the ACC, West Virginia panicked and bolted for the Big 12. West Virginia was even willing to pay $20 million to get out a year early, meaning the Big East went from nine schools to seven schools very quickly.

That meant that two conference games were no longer on the slate and those slots needed to be filled.

Daryl Gross, SU’s athletic director, tried to find non-conference opponents that would agree to come to the Carrier Dome, but with no leverage, he instead had to settle. In March, SU announced another away game, this time at Missouri, a school moving to the SEC this season. Even worse, Missouri wouldn’t agree to make it a home-and-home series, meaning that SU has to go to Columbia with no commitment from the Tigers to return the favor.

The other schools SU was talking to? Boise State, Florida State and Arkansas. Piece of cake.

Luckily, the Big East was able to grab Temple to get back to eight members, filling out the schedule for Syracuse and its conference-mates. But when all was said and done, SU had scheduled two Big Ten teams, one SEC team, and potentially No. 1 ranked USC.

Moving forward, SU will play its first ACC schedule in 2013, and has non-conference matchups slated against Penn State (if it still has a football program) and Northwestern. Reason #3 back in full effect.

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Matt is a Co-Founder at College Spun. He can be reached at matt@collegespun.com.