Syracuse is one of the more difficult places to win among Power 5 conference schools. History has proven as much -- the school has five winning seasons in football since 2000.
Joining the ACC's toughest division seemingly made that task even harder. The Orange are coming off back-to-back losing seasons and have watched Florida State and Clemson separate themselves further over the last three years. But how much harder is it to win in the Atlantic versus the more wide-open Coastal?
To answer that question, I asked the ESPN Stats & Information team to run a few simulations using Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the two former Big East teams that entered the ACC in 2013. Did Pittsburgh get the luck of the draw when it was placed into the Coastal, where it has found more success than Syracuse?
The answers are not that simple. The ESPN Stats & Information team gives Pittsburgh an average end-of-season FPI rank of 48 for the past three seasons; Syracuse's average end-of-season FPI rank is 74. Regardless of schedule, Pitt has been a better team over the last three seasons. Therefore, one would reasonably expect the Panthers to win more games no matter the division.
I asked the stats team to take the data one step further. I had the group simulate games over the last three seasons swapping the team's conference schedule. So Pitt played Syracuse's Atlantic schedule, and Syracuse played Pitt's Coastal schedule. Here are the results:
Pittsburgh Expected Conference Wins vs Syracuse Schedule
Looking at these numbers, Pitt benefitted the most from its placement in the Coastal only last season -- where it won more games than it would have been projected to win in the Atlantic. Syracuse, meanwhile, would have had about the same results in the Coastal.
I asked the Stats & Info team for one more projection: How would both teams fare in 2016 with the other's conference schedule? According to FPI, Syracuse has the most difficult conference schedule in the ACC this season, Pitt's ranks 12th in the conference. Keeping that in mind, FPI projects Syracuse to win 2.2 conference games against its own schedule. Against Pittsburgh's schedule, Syracuse would be expected to win 2.9 conference games.
FPI projects Pittsburgh to win 4.8 conference games against its own schedule. Against Syracuse's schedule, Pittsburgh would be expected to win 4.0 games.
Syracuse would only be slightly better; Pitt would only be slightly worse.
When I came up with the idea for this post, I thought the numbers would show a wider disparity. But the truth is the divisions operate in different ways. The Atlantic is more top heavy; the Coastal has more parity. Going to the ACC championship game might be easier out of the Coastal, but the games also are much less predictable. It also should be noted Syracuse did go 4-4 in ACC play in Year 1 -- better than Pittsburgh did (3-5). While the Orange have slumped over the last two years, Pittsburgh has become a much better team. Their arrows are pointing in different directions, and that is not simply because of their division homes.
To improve its fortunes, Syracuse just needs to find a way to get itself into the middle of the division on a consistent basis. Beyond being better than Boston College and Wake Forest, Syracuse needs to set its sights on passing NC State, then worry about Louisville, Florida State and Clemson.