Game Day SituationSyracuse will receive a battle one week prior to its matchup with the Irish, taking on Top 40-level squad Maryland at the Carrier Dome. Prior, the Orange begin the season with FCS foe Villanova before encountering an odd week off on September 6. They then travel to Central Michigan for a rare road outing against a MAC foe.
The Terps represent a test; the Chippewas a trap -- and that means the Orange could have a loss in tow by the time they travel to East Rutherford, N.J. for this neutral site game against the Irish. Considering the rest of Syracuse's schedule, that would be a death knell for a squad that hopes for eight wins next fall.
Notre Dame will play three games in September then enjoy a bye week prior to its Week Five matchup with the Orange at MetLife Stadium. Head coach Brian Kelly's Irish will be heavily favored in two (Rice and Purdue) and favored (Michigan) in the other outing. A 3-0 start is a must considering the brutal two months to come, and a week off before taking on Syracuse will offer a moment of respite.
Notre Dame's Week Four bye is suboptimal for overall season success, it's nonetheless an ideal set-up for the Irish entering this individual matchup with a capable Orange squad.
Why #10 Could Be Too Low…Syracuse has high hopes under head coach Scott Shafer, now in Year 2 of his system and program installation. The Orange were bowl game winners last fall and return 14 scrimmage starters plus their specialists.
Syracuse was solid defensively in 2013, finishing in the top fourth of the nation in Total Defense (33) and Rush Defense (24) while placing in the top half (65) in Pass Efficiency Defense and Scoring Defense (56). Former Michigan State middle linebacker Chuck Bullough enters his second season as a coordinator -- toughness and fundamentally sound play from his linebackers unit is likely.
Dual-threat quarterback Terrel Hunt (pictured) finished the 2013 season strong and he gives the Orange offense a shot to beat a young Notre Dame defense with big plays.
The Orange Belong at #10 because...Syracuse is arguably the 8th to 10th best team the Irish will face in the fall -- but the preceding bye week for Notre Dame offers Kelly's crew a major advantage.
The Orange offense -- notably the offensive line -- has miles to go before entertaining upset thoughts over the likes of Notre Dame, Louisville, and, wow, Florida State. The Irish begin that ridiculous three-game stretch for Shafter's squad with their September 27 matchup.
If this game were to be played at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, the slotting would be as high as #7 on our list. The neutral site, NFL atmosphere in no way hurts the Irish.
In SummationVegas oddsmakers disagree with my slotting -- Notre Dame is staked as a 5.5-point favorite at present, a number lower than games vs. Purdue (-21), Rice (spread not yet available), Louisville (-8) and Northwestern (-8).
But Game #4 in Week #5 is a unique situation for Kelly and an Irish team that will be better at the end of September than it was in the beginning. Notre Dame is 4-1 following a bye week under Kelly's guidance. Make that 5-1 as the Irish finish September 4-0.
Up Next: Trouble Spot #9 and Big 10 Team #2 on our list.