Orange Watch: The greatest victory for each of the last seven Syracuse football coaches

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No doubt Dino Babers would like to join his two immediate SU predecessors in guiding the Orange to a bowl game early in his head coaching tenure

Item: Well, we certainly know the greatest victory for Dino Babers in his miniscule tenure as Syracuse football coach, this past Saturday’s thrilling 31-17 handling of then-No. 17 Virginia Tech in a joyful Dome, which was punctuated later in the evening by the release of a rare look inside a Syracuse football locker room immediately following a game. That 2:02 ESPNU video of Coach Babers at his best, which subsequently went viral in a nanosecond through the world of various social/digital channels, revealed for all to see why Mark Coyle’s ever-lasting parting gift to Syracuse athletics was the hiring of a career offensive-minded coach in a home indoor stadium, who’s crafted his own brand of leadership to go along with an entertaining take on teaching the sport of football to college players.

It’s amazing how sometimes a single Syracuse football victory, usually of the unexpected variety since the program hasn’t been ranked in the Top 25 for 15 long seasons, can change the pulse of Orange Nation in a matter of hours. In the case of the start-to-finish, all three phases of the game beating of the Hokies, the euphoria is certainly still carrying over to this week while eyeing consecutive ACC wins for just the second time since joining the league in 2013 with Saturday’s trip to Boston College (0-3, 3-3) for a 12:30 (ET) kickoff (ACCN).

While Babers’s top Orange-tinted victory is still fresh in our minds, here’s a look at the best win of each of his six predecessors in the modern (post-World War II) era:

Ben Schwartzwalder (1949-1973 – 247 games)
No doubt it’s the 1960 Cotton Bowl to give Syracuse its lone National Championship for the 1959 season. But what’s forgotten is the final poll rankings were conducted before the New Year’s Day bowl games were played, and the Cotton pitted No. 1 SU against fourth-ranked Texas. The tone of the game was set just 1:13 into the first quarter when Ger Schwedes hit future Heisman trophy winner Ernie Davis for a game-record 87 yard scoring pass as the Orangemen beat the Longhorns 23-14.

» Related: Dino Babers’ viral video puts spotlight on Syracuse football

Frank Maloney (1974-1980 – 78 games)
Hired with great fanfare from Bo Schembechler’s staff at Michigan, Maloney did get the Orange back to a bowl game for the first time in 12 years, and the program’s first bowl win since 1961. His 1979 team beat unknown, but home-state draw, McNeese State of the Southland Conference, 31-7 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport to close out a season in which the Dome was being built and the team played at three “home” venues. Joe Morris ran for 155 yards and was the game’s offensive MVP.

Dick MacPherson (1981-1990 – 116 games)
Like Coach Ben during his decade-long run of the school’s first bowl appearances, Coach Mac’s run of five bowl games in his final six seasons guiding the Orange produced many great moments, but there’s no topping a rare undefeated regular season. The 1987 finale against West Virginia is an all-timer not only for preserving an 11-0 finish, but how it was accomplished. Rallying again and again in the fourth quarter behind a delirious Dome crowd, the 32-31 win was capped off by Don McPherson’s last-second pitch to Michael Richardson who swept over the goal line for the winning two point conversion with 0:10 to play.

Paul Pasqualoni (1991-2004 – 161 games)
We never saw Coach P at his happiest (and that was always a challenge) as when he sat relaxed among the media members after his post-game press conference at the 1993 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe. That 26-22 back-and-forth win against Colorado, aided in great part by an exciting 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown on a reverse handoff from Quadry Ismail to Kirby Dar Dar placed the ‘Cuse at No. 6 in the final polls. Yes, Syracuse used to be a Top Ten program.

Greg Robinson (2005-2008 – 42 games)
Don’t laugh. Even while guiding the program through its worst stretch over the period covered here, Robinson had his one signature victory, and it came at one of the sport’s most hallowed venues, six days after he was informed that his contract was not going to be renewed after four dreadful seasons. Led by quarterback Cam Dailey, the son of a one-time Irish basketball standout, and running back Antwon Bailey who ran for nearly 100 yards in the fourth quarter alone, SU held off Notre Dame 24-23 at South Bend when a 52 yard winning field goal drifted wide at game’s end, and the Orange players flooded the field in celebration.

Doug Marrone (2009-2012 – 50 games)
After eight an eight season bowl drought, Marrone’s second team survived losing three of its final four games to finish 7-5 and earned an invitation to the first Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium. Played four days after a blizzard crimped travel plans to the Big Apple and the full bowl itinerary for the SU and Kansas State players, Ryan Nassib threw three touchdown passes to lead SU, but the game ended with controversy. After a K-State player celebrated his touchdown with a military salute to the crowd after his score cut the SU lead to two with 1:13 to play, the officials ruled unsportsmanlike conduct and the penalty contributed to the Wildcats missing the two point conversion with the Orange hanging on to win 36-34.

Scott Shafer (2013-2015 – 37 games)
Thrust quickly into the head coaching job after Marrone’s sudden departure to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, Shafer continued the bowl momentum in his first season with a last second win over Boston College in the regular season finale earning a bowl-qualifying sixth victory. With the ACC orchestrating the team’s Texas Bowl matchup with Minnesota, SU rallied from three down to edge the Golden Gophers 21-17 on Terrel Hunt’s 12 yard touchdown run with just over a minute left. Hunt’s run was sent up by current senior Brisly Estime’s 70 yard punt return to the Minnesota 14 yard line.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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