Item: There have only been six such occasions dating back to 1869’s first Syracuse football season. A full slate of games that between a combination of SU victories and the total number of games scheduled in a given season, allowed an Orange football team to win 10 or more times. Even more amazing is that only two teams, the 1959 National Champions, and the 1987 unbeaten Sugar Bowl participants, have logged 11 victories. A win in Friday’s Camping World Bowl game in Orlando (5:15 p.m. ET / ESPN) against old foe West Virginia (8-3) would not only put the exclamation point on an incredible accomplishment for Dino Babers in his third season, and the foundation he’s built along with this year’s senior class, but a 10-3 mark will also look pretty darn good on the program’s “Annual Season Ledger” page in the media guide.
Quick trivia question: What do double digit wins in a season for Syracuse football and playing West Virginia have in common?
The answer is simple – Syracuse has never competed in a season in which it won 10 or more games and NOT played West Virginia. Ironically, that streak can continue in 2018 because WVU is this year’s bowl game opponent.
Three items standout scanning Syracuse football’s annual season list in the “modern”, or since the Ben Schwartzwalder era began its 25 year run in 1949; how good an Eastern Football juggernaut Coach Ben built, how good Orange Nation had it over the six season period between 1987-1992 when Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni were doing wonders and each winning double-digit games in a season twice, and how far Babers has come so fast as original 2013 outliers in the ACC under Scott Shafer, returning to the Top 25 polls while competing at the sport’s highest level.
Here is a capsule look at the six seasons in which Syracuse football has won 10 or more games:
1959 – The overlooked aspect to the 11-0 National Championship season is that the closest this team came to losing was not in the 23-14 Cotton Bowl win over Texas which was spotlighted onscreen in The Express, but an early November game at Penn State in which the Orange held on 20-18. The ’59 team incredibly only gave up 193 yards of rushing all season while averaging 451 yards of offense per game. Future Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis was a sophomore named to two All-American teams.
1987 – Coach Mac’s seventh season, much like Babers third, came out of nowhere. A game under .500 the year before, SU’s momentum started rolling big time after a 5-0 start and a two week gap before hosting Penn State. The end of a 17 year losing streak to the disliked Nittany Lions, and memorable win over WVU highlighted the 11-0-1 finish marred only by Auburn’s Pat Dye electing to tie in New Orleans.
1988 – Can we dare say that almost instantly over the ’87 and ’88 seasons losing became an instant faux pas? Orange Nation was spoiled and road game defeats at Ohio State and West Virginia were simply unacceptable. Joking aside, the dominating performance in a 23-10 victory the ‘Cuse put on SEC co-champions LSU in the Hall of Fame (now Outback) Bowl in Tampa was a testament to the tough brand of football Coach Mac’s teams brought to the biggest games.
1991 – Pasqualoni proved to be the right choice to keep the program humming. He inherited plenty of talent and molded the ’91 squad into a New Year’s Day bowl winning team that was a mid-season upset loss to East Carolina away from a potential 11 win season. When Syracuse beat Ohio State to claim win number 10 again in Tampa’s Hall of Fame bowl, the Buckeyes quarterback that day was named Kirk Herbstreit who they sacked four times.
1992 – The height of SU football in the Pasqualoni regime occurred following the 26-22 Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado which wrapped up a No. 6 ranking in the final A.P. poll. After being named a bowl game MVP for three years running (Aloha, Hall of Fame, and Fiesta), Orange quarterback Marvin Graves didn’t have an opportunity a year later because the ’93 team finished 6-4-1 with no postseason invitation.
2001 – Even the great Donovan McNabb couldn’t get over the nine-win hurdle during his career (1995-98) on The Hill, finishing with nine victories three times, and the gap had been extended to nine years when the 2001 team rallied from an 0-2 start, won eight straight, got buried at Miami 59-0, then beat B.C. and Kansas State decisively 26-3 in the Insight.com Bowl in Phoenix to finish No. 18 in the final A.P. poll. Defensive lineman Dwight Freeney, and his record-setting 17.5 sacks in ‘01, was the last consensus first team All-American selection prior to kicker Andre Szmyt this year, perhaps a good omen for the 2018 Orange team joining this list.