Item: When 15th ranked North Carolina State (5-1, 1-1) invades the Dome Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET / ACC Network) to face No. 18 Syracuse (5-0, 2-0), it will mark only the second time since 2000 that both teams will be ranked in the Top 25 polls for a SU home game. That also makes Saturday’s matchup arguably the most important football game played on campus since the Orange throttled Miami 66-13 in the 1998 regular season finale when SU was ranked 21st and Miami 19th.
College football has a legacy of referring to particular games in particular seasons as the ‘Game of the Century,’ due to both teams usually being undefeated and ranked 1st and 2nd in the polls.
In the last 60 years there have been famous meetings such as Michigan State-Notre Dame in 1966, Arkansas-Texas in 1969, Nebraska-Oklahoma in 1971, Miami-Penn State in 1986, Florida State-Notre Dame in 1993, Texas-USC in 2005, Michigan-Ohio State in 2006, and Alabama-LSU in 2011 and 2019 to fit that bill.
The closest Syracuse teams have come to playing a ‘Game’ was the 1960 Cotton Bowl with SU ranked No. 1 against No. 4 Texas, and the 1992 epic in the Dome when top-ranked Miami held off the eighth-ranked Orangemen coming down to the game’s final play.
In fact, since Donovan McNabb’s last game in the 1999 Orange Bowl, there have only been five contests where both Syracuse and its opponent were ranked in the Top 25, and just one game occurred in the Dome, the 2001 season finale when SU (22nd) beat Boston College (25th) 39-28.
The last time both Syracuse and its opponent were ranked in the Top 20 in the Dome was the 1998 season opener in which McNabb and company ranked 17th came up just short against eventual national champion Tennessee, ranked 10th, falling 34-33.
“That’s a long time ago,” Dino Babers accurately stated Monday at his weekly press conference. “That’s a strange statistic, but we’re excited about having the opportunity to play N.C. State.”
“One thing that I have told the team this week,” Babers added, “is you’re playing a football team. This is not a bunch of individuals. And they’re also playing a football team, not a bunch of individuals, so it’s going to be a fantastic test.”
Alright, the ‘Cuse has only been ranked a total of 16 weeks over the last 24 seasons, so we realize we’re stretching the ‘Game of the Century’ theme here, but Saturday’s matchup does feature the highest ranked SU team since being No. 12 heading into the 2018 meeting versus 3rd-ranked Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium, making it the biggest game from that standpoint played on The Hill in the 2000s.
The Orange not only have an opportunity to knock off the higher ranked Wolfpack and get out to a 6-0 start for the first time since the Cinderella 1987 team finished the regular season 11-0, but clinch bowl eligibility for just the second time under Babers a full 16 days before Halloween.
Both of those checklist items would continue to make a huge national statement with poll voters.
“I thought deserved,” Babers said Monday when asked about his reaction to being slotted at No. 18 in both polls this week. “Now we have to go out and prove that we the deserve the faith that everyone is putting in us.”
Defeating N.C. State in front of a Dome crowd expected to be north of 40,000 (Babers would like a poetic minimum of 44,000 to fill the seats) would loom large from a national prestige standpoint, and provide an important building block to get the program back to a sustainable winning culture before heading to ACC top dog Clemson October 22.