Syracuse coach Doug Marrone deserves credit for putting together the most difficult nonconference schedule in the Big East.
Yup. I said it. Marrone should be applauded.
Rather than schedule a second game against an FCS opponent, Marrone decided he would rather his team hit the road to play Missouri, giving the Orange only five home games. That move also gives the Orange four games against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences -- something that might make most every coach have his head examined.
A quick glance of the schedules for the five other AQ conferences shows only two schools -- Northwestern and Arizona State -- have the majority of their nonleague games against teams from the six major conferences. Of Northwestern's four nonconference games, three are against AQ opponents (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College). Of Arizona State's three nonconference games, two are against AQ teams (Illinois, Missouri).
For more perspective, the Pac-12 and Big 12 each have four teams with zero games against teams from AQ conferences -- tops in the country. Playing nine league games probably has something to do with that. Three teams from the Big Ten don't have games against teams from AQ conferences, either.
For more perspective than that, even the non-AQ schools average about two AQ opponents on their schedules. Now remember, the Big East has five nonconference games it must fill -- the most of all the AQ schools. Only the WAC has more, with six. But Louisiana Tech is the only WAC school to play more than two nonconference games against AQ opponents -- Texas A&M, Illinois and Virginia.
So that should show you how out of the ordinary it truly is for Syracuse to take on four games against teams from the major conferences. That is why Marrone should be applauded. In an era when most every school is looking for the easy win in order to pad their record and achieve bowl eligibility, Marrone has decided he wants his players to play the best possible opponent.
Could that cost Syracuse a bowl trip? It could. But it could also force the Orange to grow up in a hurry and blossom into an even better team. What's that old adage -- competition makes you better?
Syracuse will get plenty of that in 2012.