Toughest stretch: Syracuse

Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. Here, we take a look at the toughest stretches that each ACC team will face in 2014, periods that could help determine their fate in the upcoming campaign.


Toughest stretch: Sept. 27-Oct. 11 (vs. Notre Dame, vs. Louisville, vs. Florida State)

Why: In each of the past two seasons, Syracuse has opened the year by dropping four of its first five games against teams from Power 5 conferences, but in both years, it went on to play in (and win) a bowl game. No doubt the Orange would love to get out of the gates on a better note in 2014, but that should at least provide a small silver lining if this year's grueling first-half slate proves to be too big a hurdle for Terrel Hunt and Co.

Hunt’s progress at quarterback throughout 2013 is a big reason Syracuse finished strong and is a major cause for optimism around the program now, but the tests in 2014 will be huge.

While Syracuse actually gets a relatively easy start to the schedule (Villanova, bye week, Central Michigan and Maryland), things heat up quickly. The three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and FSU is as tough as any ACC team will face this season, and even after the Orange complete that gauntlet, they’ll still have Clemson waiting two weeks later (Oct. 25).

The three-game stretch against the Fighting Irish, Cardinals and Seminoles figures to test both Syracuse’s maturity (can the Orange play at peak levels three weeks in a row?) and its depth (can it physically survive that brutal slate without tapping into the far reaches of the depth chart?), but it at least has the advantage of playing two of the three games at home in the Carrier Dome (and Notre Dame close to home at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey). And, while the Orange were smoked by FSU last season, they did win their last matchups against Louisville (in 2012) and Notre Dame (in 2008).

If Syracuse can win just one of these three games, another bowl invite would appear likely. But surviving with at least one win in these contests is also crucial to the Orange's postseason hopes because four of their final six games are on the road.