Tag Archives: David Cutcliffe

Virginia Football: Do You Believe?

Virginia’s record stands at 4-1 six weeks into the 2017 season. It’s been ten years since Virginia has been 4-1. Four wins doubles last year’s total, and matches the full season win total the year before. The natural question to ask at this point is – do you believe in Virginia football? Long suffering Virginia fans who have had their hearts broken dozens of times over the years probably aren’t there yet. I don’t blame them. I am not sure I’m there yet either. What matters though, is that I think the players are there. They believe and after 5 games it is clear that their faith is not misplaced.

In the second quarter of Saturday’s win against Duke, the Blue Devils had just driven 88 yards down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. It was an impressive drive, as well as a disheartening drive for well conditioned Virginia fans. A passionate, long time Virginia fan in our section noted that lots of teams can put themselves in position to make plays, but good teams make plays when it matters.

He was right on the money. Virginia simply didn’t make the plays needed to halt the Duke offense. Virginia didn’t give up an 88-yard drive because they were out of position, missed coverage rotations, or made mental mistakes. At least 3 times during that drive Virginia was in position to make a drive-killing play, but missed a critical a tackle or failed to blow up a block on the edge. Duke took advantage and scored in impressive fashion.

It was the last time all day Duke scored in impressive fashion.

From that point on Virginia was not only in position to make plays, but they executed on the plays that mattered. An offense which to that point in the game had four 3-and-out series and two picks, scored 3 touchdowns and most importantly ran time off the clock with Virginia leading, when burning the clock was the path to victory. The defense that gave up the 88 yard touchdown drive forced Duke into four 3-and-outs and most importantly stopped Duke on downs to seal the victory for the Wahoos.

Two weeks ago, when Virginia shocked Boise State as a 13 point road-dog, they played very good football for 60 minutes. Against Duke, Virginia had to grind. Virginia didn’t have the A-game against Duke. In years past, this is a recipe for Virginia disaster. Duke is very well coached and always very well prepared under the miracle worker David Cutcliffe. Well prepared teams playing a Virginia team not hitting on all cylinders usually walk away with wins.

Not on Saturday.

There was never any panic on the Virginia sideline. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a sense of impending doom in the stands either. Instead, there was resolve on the sideline and steadily improving execution on the field. As Virginia went deeper into the game, they grew more confident, made more plays, and closed out a win against a Duke team that will certainly be bowl-bound in 2017.

Across the board, when the game was on the line, Virginia made plays. Offense, defense, and a much improved special teams. Lester Coleman averaged 50.8 yards per punt and made a couple of nice plays to avoid special teams disasters. He believes. Olamide Zaccheaus took a flair pass that looked to be a no gainer to the house by reading the defenders and picking the right angle to the end zone. He believes. Freshman linebacker Charles Snowden came in for his first action of the game to relieve a gassed Chris Peace. Snowden recorded a critical 4th quarter sack that killed Duke’s late game rally. Charles Snowden believes.

Virginia travels to Chapel Hill this week for a big game against a talented, but under-performing UNC team. In a refreshing change of heart, I think Virginia can win this game. I have no doubt however, that the Virginia players know they can win this game. They expect to win this game. They believe.

I am starting to as well.

A quick note to add…as mentioned in last week’s column, Virginia is playing well for the first time in 10 years. It was unfortunate that Virginia drew a 12:20 kickoff time against Duke, as any game starting within the noon hour is always less well attended than a 3:30 kick. While the crowd Saturday was @ 6,000 fans larger than the UConn game, it was still under 40,000. As noted before, this team has earned better fan support. The students are the biggest laggards, which is a shame. I hope that a win in Chapel Hill and favorable kickoff time the following week against Boston College will get the student section filled and give this team the support it deserves.

Can Bronco Deliver Before Moses?

Moses wandered 40 years in the desert leading the Israelites in search of the promised land.

Since it decided to relieve George Welsh of his duties leading it’s football program, Virginia has wandered for 16 years in the wasteland of college football. 15 years were essentially wasted chasing false prophets. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 24 years for Bronco Mendenhall to find the promised land. Unfortunately, watching the debacle in Blacksburg on Saturday, 24 years looks about right.

Just for a little comparative ACC perspective, it took David Cutcliffe 5 years to start winning at Duke after decades of football futility. Dave Clawson didn’t start winning at Wake Forest until his third year leading the program. Heck, our own football legend George Welsh went 2-9 in his first year at Virginia. So before we all panic and assume that Bronco Mendenhall should have stayed in Provo, I think it is safe to say that fan expectations were well ahead of reality for Bronco’s first year leading the program. 

That said, I have seen some bad performances by the Virginia football team in my decades as a fan, but I would have a hard time coming up with one worse than this year’s drubbing against a pretty good, but not great, Virginia Tech team. The players made mistakes early and often on both sides of the ball. I don’t have the space nor the stomach to review Saturday’s on-field miscues.

I am most perplexed however, by the decisions of the coaching staff. When your team is 2-9, there is nothing wrong with going unconventional. There is a difference between unconventional and stupid. Calling a flanker option pass on 4th & 1 is unconventional. High risk & high reward. Rotating quarterbacks with similar skill sets based on down situations is stupid. If we were going with stupid, why didn’t we play barefooted or with our helmets on backwards. At least that would have given us a legitimate excuse for the results on the scoreboard.

I’d love to know who on the staff thought that the situational quarterback rotation with two pocket passers would be an effective strategy for an upset win. Oh, and let’s toss in a QB option run with our 3rd string quarterback, also a pocket passer. Who wouldn’t have guessed that play along with this game would end in tragedy? Maybe this was Bronco’s way of throwing in the towel. Letting Matt Johns play in his final game with the team, but not letting him be the sole scapegoat for the inevitable embarrassing loss. I can’t think of another reason for such an inexplicable strategy.

Whatever the reason for the quarterback carousel, the fanbase is not amused. Virginia fans are tired of being the doormat of the ACC Coastal, which is the doormat division of the P5 cartel. If Virginia had a solid game plan and played their hearts out but just lost to a better Virginia Tech team, I think Virginia fans could have accepted that result. However, the team played like the plan for the game was to throw the towel early. It is too bad Virginia couldn’t have just gotten on the bus back to Charlottesville at halftime and saved everyone a lot of time. There was no fight, no adjustment in game plan in the second half, just more of the same nonsense that didn’t work in the first half. In poker I think that is called throwing good money after bad or doubling down on a pair of 2s.

I suppose the good news is that what should be the worst season of Bronco’s tenure in Charlottesville is over. Like lousy corporate earnings from a prior year, the comparison for next season is based on a pretty low bar. Let’s hope that Bronco and staff can double the number of wins and show some heart in both play on the field as well as game planning & strategy.

While Virginia fans are generally a patient bunch, they do not have the patience of Job and are tired of directionless wandering. I’ll renew my season tickets for 2017, but may not have 24 year’s worth of patience left to see this program get back to relevance.

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikimedia

When Winning Kind of Feels Like Losing

Before writing anything about Virginia football this week, I think it is important to note that David Cutcliffe is ACC football’s incarnation of a miracle worker. While he has had some help from his athletic administration in scheduling embarrassingly weak out-of-conference opponents, before Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke football was the decades-long joke of the ACC. Coaches came, coaches went. Presidential elections came, presidential elections went. The stock market boomed the stock market busted, but the one thing you could take to the bank was that Duke football was going to stink. A joke no more, Duke came to Charlottesville Saturday having won 6 of the past 7 games against Virginia. The George Welsh salad days of dominance over the tobacco road teams is a long forgotten memory and the former joke of the ACC was riding a 3 game Virginia winning streak.

An oft quoted cliché in sports is that “winning cures all ills”. I would modify that to say “a lot of winning cures all ills”. A little winning doesn’t change any hearts or minds and just confuses things. It’s been long time since Virginia football did a lot of winning. Since 2008, Virginia has averaged about 4 wins a year. The better programs in the nation generally win 4 games by the end of September. Therefore, when Virginia snapped its losing streak against Duke on Saturday to garner its 4th win of the season in the 3rd week of November, there wasn’t a lot of joy in C’ville.

While the 35,000 fans who bothered to show up for the game and the handful who watched it online via ESPN3 are downtrodden and demoralized, the win against Duke was actually more deflating for the fan base than uplifting. Despite the win, this game had all the earmarks of losses that we have endured over the past 8 years. Virginia had 8 penalties for over 100 yards. The defense gave up big plays at inopportune times. Special teams, which has set a new low for buffoonery this year, was as inept as usual giving up a touchdown on a kickoff return. Most glaring, as has been the hallmark of the Mike London era, confusion reigned on the sidelines. Virginia called timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties because they could not get the play in on time. Virginia took delay of game penalties because they forgot to call time out after not getting the play in on time. The specific play that told me nothing has improved on the Virginia sideline and never will as long as Mike London is running the show, was a routine punt that turned into the usual Virginia circus. Duke was punting on a 4th and long deep in their territory early in the second half. There was no doubt Duke was going to punt. Going for it on 4th and long from your own 20 with lots of time left was never an option. Yet, as Duke was getting ready to snap the ball, two Virginia players sprinted on the field getting to their spots as the ball was on its way back to the Duke punter. How can this be? We were a split second away from running our punt return team with 9 guys instead of 11. High school teams get this right every week, but Virginia cannot. How can a college program not know who is supposed to be on the field? Given the sideline pandemonium, the hardest question for Virginia fans to understand is how in the world we manage 4 wins a year?

The final straw for what became a demoralizing win, was the simple fact that Virginia, despite being up 42-20 to start the 4th quarter, had to scratch and claw to hang on to a win. After spending the day moving the ball up and down the field, Virginia went into the prevent-offense in the 4th quarter, sputtering on each drive giving Duke the opportunity to come back to grab a victory from the sideshow of defeat. Clearly this win was really just more of the same. Luck and the clock simply ran out for the Blue Devils. Virginia usually loses these games, but in an unusual twist, the fates lined up on our side and we ended up with a frustrating win instead of another embarrassing loss. Such is the psyche of a fan base that has been conditioned to expect the worst. A little bit of winning doesn’t change anything. It certainly doesn’t cure all ills, rather it highlights the shortcomings of the program. Sadly the cure for Virginia football will only come with a new coach and a new staff. Mike London is a fine and decent man. A role model for kids and benefactor in the community. Unfortunately he can’t win football games, and as Duke football as learned, it takes a lot of winning to erase the memories of years of losing.

The Times They Are A Changin’

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin'”

These words from Robert Zimmerman (Bobby Dylan to you and me) certainly ring true today, as they did, exactly fifty years ago, when this record was released. And that, most definitely, applies to the college football landscape.

From the AP and UPI poll systems, to the BCS, to the College Football Playoff, things have evolved dramatically in NCAA football. And THAT is an understatement.

From “three yards and a cloud of dust” to the HUNH (Hurry Up No Huddle), our father’s football is now almost unrecognizable. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Remember, at one time there was no forward pass. Can you imagine the furor when that change came into play?

Four years prior to Dylan’s release of “The Time’s They Are A Changin'”, I began my immersion into sports. EVERY sport. I could not get enough of sports back in 1961 and for many, many years there after.

I have now lost a great deal of my passion for professional athletics, although the Mantle and Maris home run chase of 1961 remains somewhat fresh in my mind. But I have not lost one iota of enthusiasm for college football. If anything, the love of that sector of sports, has grown in leaps and bounds. And it is quite humbling for me to find myself both writing and podcasting about that great game today. That was always a dream for me.

All of this sparked my thinking about what has become the FBS and how its current state might appear to those coaches of yesteryear. It also piqued my interest in how those coaches’ tenures compare to those of today.

I took the numbers of six legendary figures and matched them against all of the coaches who followed them at their respective institutions. I ranked them in order of the original coaches winning percentage.

1. Paul “Bear” Bryant – University of Alabama – 1958-1982
232-46-9 .824
9 coaches since – 273-122-1 .690

2. Johnny Vaught – University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) – 1947-1970 and 1973
190-61-12 .745
10 coaches since – 256-243-4 .512

3. Vince Dooley – University of Georgia – 1964-1988 – 201-77-10 .715
3 coaches since – 222-101-0 .687

4. Frank Broyles – University of Arkansas – 1958-1976 – 144-58-5 .708
10 coaches since – 276-178-3 .607

5. Charles “Cholly Mac”- McClendon – Louisiana State University – 1962-1979
137-59-7 .692
9 coaches since 276-144-6 .654

6. Ralph “Shug” Jordan – Auburn University – 1951-1975 – 176-83-6 .6754
7 coaches since 315-150-6 .6751

Four of the “legendary” head men coached at their one school for 25 years. One piloted his school for 19 years and one roamed the sidelines for 18 years at his institution of higher learning.

The one big thing that jumped out at me is that NONE of these great universities has had a winning percentage, as high as the “legendary” coach, with all of the coaches that followed him… COMBINED! ZERO. NADA.

Now boys and girls, that includes some very good coaches at each and every one of these schools. Nick Saban coached at both LSU and Alabama. Pat Dye coached at Auburn. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas. David Cutcliffe coached at Ole Miss and Mark Richt is currently the head man at Georgia.

How about this? You have 6 of the greatest coaches of all-time who coached a total of 137 years between them. On the other hand, you have 48 coaches who coached a total of 202 years. NOW hold on! That gives the 6 coaches an average tenure of 22.8 years apiece while the remaining 48 guys averaged 4.2 years each!!!

As the former voice of Ole Miss football in the 60’s, Stan Torgenson, was known to exclaim… Hoo Hoooooo MERCY!!!

Obviously, some of these latter coaches held their positions for extremely short periods of time. Bill “Brother” Oliver was the interim coach at Auburn, in 1998, for 5 games. John L. Smith had the same position at Arkansas for 12 games and Mike Price of Alabama… well you know the story there.

So, sports fans, where does this leave us? One one hand, you can talk about “the good ole days”, simpler times, loyalty, and the like.

Conversely, one can speak of the demand to “turn it around quickly”, the huge number of demands on a coach’s time, social media, and all that goes with being a CEO of the mega-corporaate structure that is FBS football in the 21st century.

But, regardless of all this, there is one undeniable thread that weaves its way throughout the history of college football… WINNING. “Just win, baby” as, now deceased, Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, was oft-quoted.

Winning does “soothe the savage beast” that is today’s college football fan, but just for a bit. That fan wants to win today, tomorrow and forever. That fan also wants to win big and with style. And that winning includes having the best facilities possible.

So, what would I say to today’s young and eager, prospective college football coaches, if I had them as an audience? To those coaches whose tenure at a school might, possibly, fall into the 4.2 years average that was mentioned above?

My answer might go something like this…

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin'”

Virginia Not Making Meaningful Progress

Virginia made all manner of mistakes in losing 35-10 to Georgia Tech on November 1.
Virginia made all manner of mistakes in losing 35-10 to Georgia Tech on November 1. Photo: Mike Stewart

Oh boy. Virginia fans knew that the team’s 2014 football schedule presented opportunities early and that the team would need to seize those opportunities if it were going to make meaningful progress after last year’s 2-10 disaster. When pre-season favorite North Carolina and its porous defense was exposed early, that home matchup became the opportunity for the all-important sixth win that everyone looking at the schedule was trying to find. “Meaningful progress” is the standard that head coach Mike London supposedly is being held to this year and that term is just nebulous enough to invite debate. Some have insisted that six wins and a bowl game are the minimum standards for meaningful progress. Others believe that merely being competitive is the threshold following a season in which Virginia’s average margin of defeat was three touchdowns. Still others maintain that as long as Virginia defeats Virginia Tech this year then the record shouldn’t matter and that Mike London should be given more time. Athletic Director Craig Littlepage is tightlipped as to what constitutes his standard of meaningful progress, but what is clear following yesterday’s game at Georgia Tech is that this Virginia team no longer is meeting the standards that anyone has for it—not the players, not Mike London and his coaches, and certainly not the fans. Virginia, having let its two best chances for wins five and six slip away against Duke and UNC, now faces a November schedule that offers no handholds for a team trying to avoid falling headlong into the abyss.

I was among Mike London’s supporters at the beginning of the year. For a number of reasons I felt that this team would be markedly better than last year’s. It would have more upperclass leadership and more talent after the addition of an impressive recruiting class that included several players who were expected to contribute right away. The players would be more comfortable with the new offensive and defensive schemes that were installed last year and they would have the extra motivation of playing for a coach they love and whose job security depended on their play. Early on, I looked pretty smart. Even in losses to nationally-ranked UCLA and BYU, Virginia was game. As the team’s confidence grew, so did my belief that we could win almost any game on our schedule. The importance of confidence to on-field performance cannot be overstated and as Virginia stood up to its nationally-ranked opponents, I could sense that this team was vastly improved and comfortably within the parameters I personally had established for meaningful progress.

And then came the bye week. Virginia’s seemed to come at a good time. Starting QB Greyson Lambert was nursing an ankle sprain and the team needed to address some deficiencies while preparing for a very important road contest against a Duke team that has owned Virginia under Mike London. Well, what looked like good timing for a bye week in hindsight wasn’t. For Virginia, the bye week broke the team’s rhythm. Post bye-week Virginia has looked very much like the fumbling, bumbling, stumbling 2013 Virginia team and nothing like the 2014 team that started 4-2. What the hell happened?

Virginia’s offense is going backwards. The Cavaliers haven’t scored a second-half touchdown in four games and have only 6 points total in those eight second-half quarters. I believe that the offense’s shortcomings were masked early by the help it was getting from the defense. Virginia scored 190 points in its first five games, but 72 of those points (38%) came after the defense either forced a turnover and scored or presented the offense with a short field or an unsettled situation. Virginia’s defense has been far less helpful during this three-game losing streak, generating just two turnovers that the offense has turned into exactly three points. Without the defense’s help, the offense has been exposed. Two of Virginia’s first five opponents were inferior and the Hoos took advantage, inflating its offensive stats by posting 45 points against both Richmond and Kent State. The offensive line, thought to be a weakness, has yielded but 8 sacks this season, giving the impression that it is better than it is. Virginia, however, wants to run the ball and it has gotten an uneven effort from the line in that regard. Virginia’s quarterbacks, lacking game experience, are having to learn on the job and are continuing the struggles Virginia has had at that position since since Matt Schaub graduated in 2003. Among FBS teams only Appalachian State has committed more red zone turnovers than Virginia’s five this year. Clearly, the offense has struggled when tasked with producing points on its own.

When a team is confident and playing well, the game’s breaks fall its way. Conversely, stumbling teams can’t seem to get out of their own way or catch a break. There was abundant evidence of this in Atlanta yesterday. When a team (Georgia Tech) is playing well, it gets a favorable spot on a 4th down play in the red zone. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it can’t convert an interception deep in its opponent’s territory into a touchdown because a wide open receiver inexplicably drops the pass. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it commits an illegal shift penalty that negates a first down throw early in the 4th quarter when the game is not yet entirely out of reach. The resultant punt into the wind travels 23 yards, giving the opponent a short field from which it did put game away. When a team (Virginia) isn’t playing well, it compounds its misery by going four straight second-halves without a touchdown. Virginia, quite simply, is doing this to itself.

Virginia and Duke were once the laughingstocks of college football. The schools made fortuitous hires in George Welsh and David Cutcliffe and everything changed. Virginia seems to have in place everything it needs to be successful except the right head coach. Mike London was not untested at this level but he was unproven when Virginia hired him. His ties to the state and his established recruiting contacts were valuable assets to a Virginia team that was whiffing on in-state recruits under former coach Al Groh, but now Virginia needs a leader who can change the losing culture. For all of his admirable qualities Mike London doesn’t seem to be the man for that job. Virginia’s early-season meaningful progress has evaporated and with it has gone London’s job security. Never will a school more reluctantly part ways with a coach whose only shortcoming is that he doesn’t win.  And unfortunately that’s the bottom line. 

Ranking Syracuse's Opponents on 2014 Football Schedule

The college football offseason is about to reach its unceremonious conclusion, as it’s officially game week. For the Syracuse Orange, the season starts Friday night with a home game against Villanova. It will be the first game in what many believe to be one of the tougher schedules in the ACC, which is why Scott Shafer set expectations for the season at just eight wins, and not a more ambitious number like 10. To get an idea of just how difficult the schedule Syracuse will play in 2014 is, here is a ranking of the 12 opponents the Orange will have this season.
 
12. Villanova – Like it or not, just about every power conference team plays an FCS school at some point in the season, although it would have been tough for Syracuse to schedule a better one than Villanova. The Wildcats will be the easiest team Syracuse plays this year, but they’ve had a winning record in seven or the last eight seasons, including an FCS national championship in 2009, so they’re far from a pushover. After giving Boston College problems in the season opener last year, Villanova could challenge the Orange and keep the game close for at least two or three quarters.
 
11. Wake Forest – The Orange shutout Wake Forest in the Carrier Dome last year, and the Demon Deacons could be even worse this year, as they’ll have a new head coach, a new quarterback, and no apparent replacement for their top offensive playmaker, Michael Campanaro. Obviously, there are no guarantees going on the road, but this is a game Syracuse should win easily.
 
10. N.C. State – N.C. State should be better than they were last season, especially if Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett provides an answer at quarterback. But in the second year of a rebuilding project under Dave Doren, they shouldn’t be improved enough to win in the Carrier Dome if the Orange play their best, especially after Syracuse handled them last year. The Wolf Pack may not role over, but at home, this is a game in which the Orange should be able to take care of business.
 
9. Central Michigan – A road game against Central Michigan is going to be tougher than people think. The Chippewas carry some momentum into 2014 after winning five of their last seven games in 2013, and they have a team that could compete for a spot in the MAC Championship Game this season. With Scott Shafer and much of the coaching staff having a history in the MAC, the Orange won’t be taking this team lightly, which should help them get off to a 2-0 start.
 
8. Boston College – Steve Addazio did a great job of turning the Eagles around last year and getting them to a bowl game in his first season in Chestnut Hill, but B.C. is due to take a step back this year. The Eagles have to replace quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams, and wide receiver Alex Amidon, and those three provided most of the offense last season. The Eagles will be looking for redemption after the Orange stole last year’s meeting in the Carrier Dome in the last minute, but this is a winnable road game for Syracuse to close out the regular season.
 
7. Maryland – This won’t be the same Maryland team that the Orange handled last season in College Park, especially on offense, where the Terrapins were missing several key players due to injury for much of 2013. The Syracuse secondary should be challenged in this game, as this matchup should produce a few more points than last season’s game between the Orange and Terrapins did.
 
6. Pittsburgh – Syracuse and Pittsburgh always seem to play close, hard-fought games; Big East style games if you will. A single point has decided each of the last two meetings between these teams, although Syracuse has just one win in the series since 2004. The Orange will be making their first trip to Pittsburgh since 2011, so the Panthers will be excited to avoid seeing the Carrier Dome this season, while Syracuse needs to work on evening this series out in a late-season game that could go either way and will have great importance for both teams.
 
5. Louisville – The Orange pulled off a major upset the last time the Cardinals came to the Carrier Dome, and while Louisville probably won’t be a top-10 team this time around, Syracuse will most likely be a home underdog. Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong are both gone, so this will be a much different team from the one Syracuse dominated in 2012, but there’s still a lot of talent on the Louisville roster, and this isn’t exactly Bobby Petrino’s first rodeo. Louisville is probably the more talented team, but a Friday night game in the Carrier Dome could help to balance things out a bit and give Syracuse another shot to upset the Cardinals.
 
4. Duke – Duke football is a laughing stock no more, as David Cutcliffe has turned things around, and even took the Blue Devils to the ACC Championship Game last season. Like Syracuse, Duke is one of the few teams in the ACC that returns its starting quarterback, which should help put the Blue Devils in the mix to win the ACC Coastal and return to the conference title game. Syracuse should get some advantage from playing at home in this game, but the Blue Devils are one of the more talented ACC teams the Orange will play this season, especially on offense.
 
3. Notre Dame – Syracuse may be New York’s college team, but with Notre Dame’s fan base, playing in the Meadowlands will be a de-factor road game for the Orange against a pre-season top-25 team. The loss of a few key players to suspension could open the door for Syracuse just a little to pull off the upset. However, there should be no mistaking the fact that the Irish are the more talented team and will be considerable favorites. If nothing else, this game is a good early-season barometer to see how the Orange stack up with a top-25 team.
 
2. Clemson – There may be no more intimidating venue in the ACC than Clemson’s Death Valley. Syracuse won’t have to contend with the combination of Tajh Boy and Sammy Watkins that torched them last year, but Dabo Swinney still has a roster that’s far more talented than the one Scott Shafer will bring down south with him. The Orange will have a realistic chance to win most of their road games, but this is by far the toughest away game of the season.
 
1. Florida State – On paper, you might as well mark this down as a loss for the Orange. You never want to completely eliminate the possibility of an upset inside the Carrier Dome, as it’s been done before, but this is a game in which Syracuse will have to play perfect just to be within striking distance in the 4th quarter against the best team in the ACC and a team that many favor to repeat as national champions.