A year after their breakthrough season, how does Syracuse's schedule shape up? Let's take a look:
Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records):
Sept. 3: Wake Forest (3-9)
Sept. 10: Rhode Island (5-6)
Sept. 17: at USC (8-5)
Sept. 24: Toledo (8-5)
Oct. 8: at Tulane (4-8)
Big East home games
Oct. 1: Rutgers
Oct. 22: West Virginia
Nov. 11: South Florida
Nov. 26: Cincinnati
Big East road games
Oct. 29: at Louisville
Nov. 5: at Connecticut
Dec. 3: at Pittsburgh
Gut-check time: Right out of the gate. Syracuse will open with Wake Forest, which had a bad season in 2010 but returns most of its starters and could be pesky. In Week 3, there's a difficult trip to USC. The Orange will need their positive momentum from last season to carry over into the start of 2011.
Trap game: How about Toledo? The Rockets won eight games last season, including a victory against Purdue, and according to Phil Steele have the seventh-most returning starters in the country with 19. Plus, the game is the week after that USC trip. Not calling a Toledo upset here by any means, but it could be more difficult than it looks on paper.
Snoozer: Rhode Island. But Syracuse needs that breather between its two games against BCS AQ teams.
Good luck with that: Going to USC. Sure, the Trojans aren't what they used to be. But they've still got a ton of talent, and a trip across the country is never easy, as the Orange learned at Washington last September.
Upset watch: Wake Forest was bad last season. Real bad. But Jim Grobe is a good coach who won't be down for long, and you never know with openers.
Final analysis: In recent years, the Orange have scheduled a bit too aggressively out of conference. Last season, they dumbed things down with two FCS opponents on the docket. This schedule strikes a nice balance with two solid BCS opponents, plus respectable mid-majors and the requisite guarantee game against a lower-division foe. Other than USC, Syracuse should be favored to win all those nonconference games on paper, and they'll have a shot in Troy.
Syracuse contended for the Big East title last season despite having four conference road games; this year, it gets four at home and starts league play with the first two in the Carrier Dome. On the flip side, the Orange lost to all three teams it must play on the road this season. For some reason, Doug Marrone's team was worse in the Dome last season. If Syracuse can learn how to protect home field and avoid upsets in the nonconference portion, a second straight bowl game -- and possibly more -- is well within reach.