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Ranking Opponents on Syracuse's 2021 Schedule

A look at the least to the most difficult games on the Orange's schedule.

As the Orange gear up for their return to the Carrier Dome this season, there are some things they need to take into consideration. This year, Syracuse football could take a step forward after hiring two new coordinators last winter.

To have a better season than last year, there has to be improved line play. Syracuse's offensive line needs to improve significantly, as they have given up 88 sacks the last two seasons. They can’t have an efficient pass game if the quarterback is constantly under duress.

There is a trend through the majority of their games last year that had a significant impact on the offense's proficiency. Syracuse struggled to convert on a third down all season (only 26.14% conversion rate). It had more three and outs which resulted in its defense wearing out quicker.

The Orange has a tough season ahead of them, especially coming off of a 1-10 campaign.

Here’s our look at the 2021 schedule, ranking them from least to most difficult.

12. UAlbany- September 18

UAlbany won their first ever FCS Playoff game in 2019 and went 1-3 last season losing three in a row. Syracuse is in the FBS division, the highest level of collegiate football in the nation. Therefore, their lack of size, speed and all around skills will most likely make them fairly easy to beat.

11. Rutgers- September 11

This should be a good game for the Syracuse quarterback to open it up and find good rhythm early on in the season with this week two match-up. Rutgers only has won 10 out of their last 48 games dating back to 2017. Part of the Big Ten and going 3-6 in 2020, the three key players for offense are QB Noah Verdral, RB Isaih Pacheco and WR Bo Melton. The question is, can the Syracuse defense keep up with a team that averaged nearly 27 points a game last year? They struggled mightily last year, only converting 34% on 3rd down.

10. Ohio- September 4

As the first game of the season, Syracuse will have to be ready for their defense. Last year, they only gave up 16.7 points per game during their reduced COVID schedule with a 2-1 record.

9. Wake Forest- October 9

Going 4-5 last year and losing against Wisconsin in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl 2020, this is an all-around average team. Syracuse lost against them last year 38-14, but this time Syracuse gets them at home. The Orange should also be healthier. 

8. Louisville- November 13

Going 4-7 in 2020, they crushed Florida State 48-16 in its most impressive win of the year. The Orange lost against them last year at a whopping 30-0.

7. Virginia Tech- October 23

After starting the season 3-1, the Hokies went 2-5 down the stretch. That included a blowout loss at Pittsburgh. However, Virginia Tech did play well against some quality opponents. 

6. Pitt- November 27

Pitt went 6-5 last season. Syracuse lost 21-10 last year, but the reason they’re right in the middle of this list is one pivotal reason: they hang their hat on their defense. They were tied for most sacks in the FBS at 46, and are 3rd in the nation for 93.5 rushing yards per game allowed.

5. Florida State- October 2

FSU has a 3-6 season in 2020 with upset #5 North Carolina 31-28. They’re still trying to get back to their winning ways after only going 21-26 in their last 4 seasons. They also should have more stability with HC Mike Novell going into his 2nd season, though they struggled on offense all across the board last year. There’s even holes in the defense, where they gave up 36 points per game last year: the 3rd worst in the ACC.

4. Boston College- October 30

Known for never losing consecutive games in their 6-5 record, Boston College has an opportunistic defense and forced 21 turnovers last season. Junior QB Phil Jurkovec primed for a standout year after a solid first season (17 TDS, 5 INTs, 138.7 passer rating). It’s going to be HC Jeff Hafley’s 2nd season, who has good, experienced players across the roster. They are on track to assert themselves into one of the top teams in the ACC.

3. Liberty- September 24

Senior standout QB Malik Willis returns, with eyes on being one of the first QBs taken in the draft (led NCAA in rushing yards by a QB with 944). HC Hugh Freeze’s defense only gets better every year, only giving up 20.5 points last year in yards allowed (317.7). They came out of last year with a 10-1 record, and beat #12 Coastal Carolina in the 2020 Cure Bowl. The question is: Can Syracuse contain Liberty’s rushing attack after giving up 338 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground in 2020?

2. NC State- November 20

Losing to them last year 31-6, Syracuse needs to find a formula to run the ball better against a solid defense. QB Devin Leary missed 7 games last year but he is fully healthy again, and RB Zonovan Knight is poised to make a big leap in his junior season after putting up over 700 yards in each of the last two seasons. Nine returning starters from last year gives NC State a stable veteran presence on the defense. They have an 8-3 record and lost to Kentucky 23-21 in the Gator Bowl. This game being on the road also makes it a more difficult one for Syracuse. 

1. Clemson- October 15

For many reasons, Clemson is at the top of the list as toughest to beat this year. Despite #1 NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence gone, their impeccable stats remain. Though they lost in the CFP Semifinal versus Ohio State, their record was 10-1. They averaged 44.9 points per game last season and are tied for first in the nation last year with 46 sacks. Sophomore QB DJ Uiagalelei in limited time last season (5 TD’s, 0 INT’s, 146.4 passer rating in 2 starts last season). Can Syracuse be more efficient through the air? Fans saw them struggle against Clemson last season where they only managed 175 yards passing, 3 turnovers, 10 completions.