With only 13 regular season dates (six dedicated to Ivy League dates), Princeton doesn't have a lot of wiggle room in the nonconference portion of its schedule. That has come into full focus: For the first time since 1999, the Tigers won't meet Syracuse -- its arch-rival for much of the '90's and '00's -- in the regular season. Lehigh has taken place of the Orange, erasing from the regular season one of the most anticipated games on the national schedule. In a year in which both Syracuse and Princeton look like top 10-type teams, this is a loss for those that love explosions and fire and blue-bloods taking a tire iron to each other's face. These things happen, but it hurts especially bad right now given the ceilings of both teams for 2014.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
"You're Looking Live. . . ."
March 2: v. Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, M.D.); March 7: North Carolina; April 8: Lehigh
Good news, Tigers fans: Even with Syracuse jettisoned to the unknown, there's still a lot of juice left on Princeton's slate this coming season. Princeton will participate in the Face-Off Classic in early March against Hopkins, a fine opportunity to test the Tigers' offense against a traditionally solid defensive team. Lehigh presents a similar opportunity in mid-April (sandwiched between what should be clobberings of Rutgers and Dartmouth), and both games look like they'll provide Princeton with important strength of schedule points at the end of the year (if not valuable quality wins). As for North Carolina -- the Tigers and Tar Heels played arguably 2013's best game in Chapel Hill, a 16-15 win for North Carolina (Chad Tutton registered the game-winning tally with just three seconds remaining in regulation). This season's date with the Heels has all the potential to duplicate itself at Class of 1952 Stadium, an early-season landscape-shaper with face-melting possibilities.
No Brain Farts
February 22: Hofstra; March 18: @Villanova
Here's the compelling part of these two games: They come at tough points in Princeton's campaign. The Tigers open with the Pride, and season-opening games tend to feature performances that aren't always indicative of a particular team's actual potential. Hofstra is looking like a team lurking outside of the top 20 (Hofstra is definitely a top 30 team, though), but the Pride will -- presumably -- have a game under its belts before they meet Princeton, which could create a result that the Tigers may not like. With respect to the Villanova date, the Tigers will meet the Wildcats in a mid-week affair that immediately follows Princeton's game with Pennsylvania and precedes the Tigers' trip to New Haven to face Yale. Princeton is -- at least on paper -- stronger than these two teams going into 2014, but where those games fall on the calendar could create problems for a Tigers team that can't afford to take a night off.
The Yacht Club
March 15: Pennsylvania; March 22: @Yale; March 29: @Brown; April 12: Dartmouth; April 19: @Harvard; April 26: v. Cornell (Bethpage, N.Y.)
Look: Princeton is going to make the Ivy League Tournament; the only issue is where the Tigers are seeded for the conference's postseason hootenanny. What's interesting about Princeton's conference slate this season is that it will have the opportunity to dictate its position on the league's table against the conference's other projected contenders early in the season: The Tigers will have put the Quakers and Bulldogs in its rear view mirror before April starts (for better or worse). Now, Princeton has seen these two teams at this stage in the calendar since 2010, but the early meetings with Pennsylvania and Yale holds extra significance in 2014 as each club looks like the biggest threats to the Tigers this coming spring. If Princeton is able to generate at least one win against those two teams, then a manageable stretch of Brown and Dartmouth follows, likely solidifying Princeton in what could be a wild Ivy League Tournament. And if the Tigers drop both games, there's still tons of opportunity to work out the kinks through April to earn an invitation to the conference's postseason. If you’re Chris Bates, you have to like that the Ivy League didn't deviate from its scheduling methodology for 2014.