The ultimate conference for Syracuse football

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Antwan Cordy intercepts a pass against Boston College. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Earlier this week, my colleague Matt Dagostino wrote a column on the ultimate Syracuse basketball conference, inspired by Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde of college sports realigning into 10 geographically-friendly conferences to be more fiscally responsible during these current COVID-19 times.

That got me wondering: What would the ultimate Syracuse college football conference look like?

The parameters are:

  • 12 teams
  • Pack the conference full of teams that have given Syracuse the best (and worst) memories most consistently throughout the basketball program’s history
  • … And no touching of the hair or the face!!!

Let the fun begin!

First the honorable mentions:

  • Temple: Geographically, inclusion into this football conference makes sense, but the Owls are 10-26-1 against the Orange. Also, they’ve only faced each other once (a 38-20 win for the Orange in 2012) since the 2004 season when they were both in the Big East.
  • Maryland: The teams overlapped for a couple seasons in the ACC before Maryland bolted to the Big 10, but they’ve faced each other 36 times, with Syracuse winning 19 of them.
  • NC State: Syracuse has only two wins (of 13 games), with the most crushing come during the 1998 season a 38-17 loss. Torry Holt bruised the No. 11 Orange secondary for 138 yards.
  • Wake Forest: The teams have become competitive since SU joined the ACC, with the Orange holding a 6-3 record, including a 39-30 overtime win (an unusual final score) to finish the 2019 season.
  • Florida State: FSU is 11-2 against Syracuse, with the Orange winning in 1966 and then not winning again until 2018. That win prompted a famous Dino Babers speech.

And now for the 11 teams who made the cut:

Boston College: This is probably Syracuse’s fiercest rival at the moment. The Orange holds a 32-21 lead in the series, with the Eagles trouncing the Orange 58-27 in 2019. Still, some of the better memories of Syracuse football have come at the expense of Boston College. Scott Shafer was carried off the field after defeating BC after he was dismissed in the 2015 season. Shafer’s squad also topped the Eagles at the Carrier Dome in 2013 on the final offensive play of the game, allowing the Orange to advance to the Texas Bowl in Shafer’s first year. If you remember, Paul Pasqualoni was also carried off the field by his team after upsetting the No. 17 Eagles 43-17 on the road in the 2004 regular season finale, to give SU a four-way tie for the Big East title and a bid to the Citrus Bowl. Diamond Ferri, playing virtually every down on both sides of the ball, ran 28 times for 141 yards and two scores, and returned an interception for a TD. And who could forget Eric Dungey bowling over the Boston College defense in 2018 en route to a 42-21 win at Chestnut Hill?

West Virginia: From 1993 to 2012, the two teams battled for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy, but the teams stopped playing each other in conference after the Mountaineers bolted for the Big 12. Syracuse holds a 34-27 lead in the series and has won the last four games between the two schools. That includes a 2012 Pinstripe Bowl and a 2018 Camping World Bowl victory over their former top rival.

Miami: During the heyday of the Big East in the late 90s, Syracuse and Miami frequently battled for conference supremacy. Syracuse topped Miami in the 1997 and 98 seasons, punctuated by a shocking 66-13 win in 1998 led by Donovan McNabb that cemented SU’s third consecutive Big East championship. That would prove to be the last time the Orange defeated Miami, with six straight losses to the Hurricanes since then.

Virginia Tech: Syracuse holds a 10-8 lead in this series, and some of those games are among the most memorable of recent memory. When the Orange knocked off the Hokies, 31-17, in Dino Babers’ first season with the Orange in 2016, the mantra “Our House!” was born. In 2002, toward the twilight of Paul Pasqualoni’s tenure with Syracuse, SU upset the Hokies in triple overtime, 50-42 behind a dominant performance from running back Damien Rhodes.

Rutgers: In theory, the rivalry should be stronger between the two schools. Geographically, Rutgers is one of the closest Power 5 programs to Central New York, and the teams first faced off in 1914 (a 14-14 tie). But the Scarlet Knights have rarely found success, and when they did, the Orange was in the middle of the Greg Robinson era. Syracuse holds a 30-12-1 record, and the two teams were scheduled to rekindle their rivalry this season, for the first time since 2012, prior to COVID.

Louisville: The Cardinals have dominated this series recently, winning five of the last six matchups. One such loss included Heisman winner Lamar Jackson’s incredible hurdle over a Syracuse defender. Louisville holds a 11-7 edge in this series, though the Orange did enjoy a 54-23 romp over their rivals in 2018.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against Pitt in 2020

Clemson: Syracuse won the first matchup between these two teams 41-0 in their first meeting in 1995 Gator Bowl. The Tigers have dominated SU since the Orange joined the ACC, though Babers and company have played CU tough in more recent memory, including an incredible 27-24 upset at the Carrier Dome in 2017 which led to another powerful postgame speech from Babers. The Tigers own a 6-2 record against SU.

Pittsburgh: Syracuse goes way back with Pittsburgh, with their first game played in 1916 (a 30-0 loss). Since then, Pitt and the Cuse have followed each other through the Big East and the ACC, and the Panthers have pulled away in the all-time series. Syracuse has won just two games against the Panthers since 2004, and they’re down 32-40-3 all time.

Notre Dame: Though the Fighting Irish have a 6-3 edge in this series, Syracuse was still able to pull off a monumental upset in the midst of the Greg Robinson era. Walk-on quarterback Cameron Dantley led SU on two 68-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 24-23 road win, the rare bright spot in one of the darkest eras of SU football.

Penn State: Sure, Penn State has dominated this series, 43-23-5, over time, but Orange Fever was at its heights when Syracuse defeated the No. 10 Nittany Lions in the 1987 season. Their 48-21 home win was a crowning achievement for head coach Dick MacPherson and quarterback Don McPherson (robbed of the Heisman at the end of the season). It was the first time the Orangemen had defeated PSU in 17 years.

Army: It made sense to include the Black Knights for geographical reasons, and the fact that the teams first faced each other in 1899 (a 12-6 loss for Syracuse). Since then, the Orange own an 11-10 record against Army, with their most recent matchup coming in 1996 (a 42-17 home win).

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2590 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.