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Can The 'Cuse Win The Conference?

Obviously things will be different this year with Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame in the ACC, and even more next year with Louisville, and the question is: can Syracuse win the conference?

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It'd be foolish to argue that they couldn't. Here's something to keep in mind though: last year, Syracuse finished 30-10. Of those 30, five came against (old) Big East bottom feeders DePaul, South Florida, Seton Hall and Rutgers. Mediocre St. John's and Providence coughed up three more.

In the early part of the season, Syracuse loaded up on Wagner, Princeton, Colgate, Eastern Michigan, Long Beach State, Monmouth, Canisius, Detroit, Alcorn State and Central Connecticut State.

In other words, 18 of those wins were over teams which realistically had no chance of winning.

The Orange did beat #20 (at the time) San Diego State and survived always tough Temple by four.

Now let's look at the team's first schedule as an ACC team.

Syracuse stars with Cornell, Fordham, Colgate, St. Francis and Minnesota in Maui,  Indiana, Binghamton, St. John's, High Point, Villanova and Eastern Michigan.

The non-conference part of the schedule is unusually tough by Syracuse standards, partly because Jim Boeheim wants to maintain some ties to former Big East rivals St. John's and Villanova. We'd be surprised if the Orange came up with less than 10 wins in that stretch.

ACC play should be more interesting.

We'd expect them to beat a down Miami and Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech, though the fans there are as intense as any in the conference. UNC at home will be tougher though certainly not impossible, particularly if PJ Hairston is still out.

BC may not be as easy. The Eagles have a lot of talent and an explosive offense. And while the fans are hit and miss, they do turn up for big games and it can be a very tough place to play. Ask Duke, since the Devils barely survived last year's visit.

Then it's familiar Pitt at home before a road trip to Miami. The 'Canes are very well coached and, again, the fans turn out for big games. Syracuse is much better, but atmosphere counts.

Next is a visit to Wake. The Deacs have struggled, but there is a solid core of young talent which took Duke to the limit last season.

Then back to the past with a South Bend trip two days later.

Syracuse will beat Clemson at home before traveling to Pitt. State makes its first foray to Syracuse with a young but talented team.

Then Syracuse hosts BC, which is by now an experienced team which has been together for a while.

Shortly after that is a visit to Durham, which is an experience you can't simulate, and Duke is as tough as anyone, followed by a trip to Maryland, where the fans are famously brutal, but also intense and passionate, topped off with a trip to Virginia.

A young and improving Georgia Tech drops by for Senior Day before Florida State welcomes the Orange for their final game.

Of the conference games,  we'd certainly expect Syracuse to beat Miami first time out and Clemson and State.

Otherwise, every other game is likely to be extremely intense, far more than what Syracuse got from DePaul, Seton Hall or Rutgers, with games in sterile gyms in front of mediocre, disinterested crowds.

You'd have to be incredibly arrogant or foolish or both to go into places like Virginia, Virginia Tech or Wake Forest with the idea that you're not going to get their absolute best shot. They will, and if Syracuse doesn't figure it out pretty quickly, the Orange is going to get bruised.

Yes, the top of the conference will be loaded. But the bigger danger comes from the resentful icebergs which live to knock one of them off. Clemson fans know the odds of beating Duke or UNC have always been long. But the atmosphere at Clemson - and around the conference - for big games has always been phenomenal.

That's what you can't prepare for, night in and night out, and that's why around February or so, Syracuse should be commenting on that as the difference between conferences.