Syracuse Football Reality
Eschewing the requisite third-person writing format for a moment, I am a diehard fan of Syracuse University. I went to football games at Archbold Stadium, including the last one ever played there. I went to a game during the year in between that stadium and the Dome. I was a student attending the game in 1987 where an undefeated Syracuse team utterly destroyed hated Penn State. I have been to road games and bowl games. I bleed orange. But, with a rumor that Syracuse is planning to schedule Wisconsin, I can only shake my head at the institutional delusion inside the athletic department (shared by some fans).
The reality… as in what is real to those not blinded by passionate fandom… is that Syracuse football is NOT elite and perhaps never was even close to elite. What about the glory days between 1987 and 1998? Look again.
1987 (11-0-1). The greatest Syracuse team that I have ever seen did not lose in 12 games. However, look at some of the opponents and records. The only opponent to win 9 games that year was Auburn. Normally elite Penn State (23-1 the two prior years) was only 8-4, as was Pittsburgh. West Virginia finished the season 6-6. The next best team that year record-wise? Rutgers at 6-5. Boston College, Maryland, Missouri, and Miami of Ohio all finished with 4 or 5 wins. Then a patsy, Virginia Tech was 2-9. Navy was also 2-9. The other victory was Colgate.
In fact, if you look at Syracuse between 1987 and 1998, here are the games against teams with 10 or more wins that year:
Year (Syracuse record): Opponent (record, result)
1987 (11-0-1): None.
1988 (10-2): West Virginia (11-1, loss 31-9). Other notes: Syracuse also lost to a 4-6-1 Ohio State team. Syracuse did beat an 8-4 L.S.U. team in the Hall of Fame bowl. The only other team that had a winning record was Pittsburgh, at 6-5. Every other team was sub .500.
1989 (8-4): Florida State (10-2, loss 41-10). Other notes: beat 6-6 Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Lost to 8-win West Virginia, Penn State, and Pittsburgh.
1990 (7-4-2): Miami (10-2, loss 33-7). Other notes: Lost to 9-win Penn State, 8-win U.S.C. and tied 8-win Michigan State. The team with the best record that Syracuse beat? Temple at 7-4.
1991 (10-2): Perhaps the best win for Syracuse other than Nebraska: Florida (10-2, win 38-21); Florida State (11-2, loss 46-14); East Carolina (11-1, loss 23-20). Other notes: beat an 8-4 Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
1992 (10-2): Miami (11-1, loss 16-10). Other notes: loss to 8-3-1 Ohio State and beat a 6-5 Texas. Beat a 9-win Colorado team in the Fiesta Bowl.
1993 (6-4-1): West Virginia (11-1, loss 43-0). Other notes: also lost to 9-win Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech. Best wins were over 8-win Cincinnati and Ball State.
1994 (7-4): Miami (10-2, loss 27-6). Other notes: lost to a 6-6 Oklahoma team.
1995 (9-3): Virginia Tech (10-2, loss 31-7). Other notes: beating Clemson in the Gator Bowl 41-0 was nice, but Clemson was an 8-win team that year. Syracuse lost to 9-win East Carolina and 8-win Miami earlier that year.
1996 (9-3): North Carolina (10-2, loss 27-10); Virginia Tech (10-2, won 52-21); Army (10-2, won 42-17). Other notes: Army’s ten wins were against Ohio, an 0-11 Duke team, North Texas, Yale, Rutgers, Tulane, Miami (Oh.), Lafayette, Air Force, and Navy.
1997 (9-4): Kansas State (11-1, loss 35-18, Fiesta Bowl). Other notes: This is the year that Syracuse opened by beating Wisconsin (who went on to lose 4 more games), and then responded to that by losing to a 6-5 North Carolina State and 4-8 Oklahoma. Syracuse wins were against teams with a combined record of 45-58.
1998 (8-4): Tennessee (13-0, loss 34-33); Michigan (10-2, won 38-28); Florida (10-2, loss 31-10; Orange Bowl). Other notes: Syracuse thumped a 9-win Miami, 66-13, and beat a 9-win Virginia Tech team. The Michigan game is a top 5 regular season game for Syracuse in the past 30 years–a domination of the Wolverines.
Overall, from 1987 to 1988, Syracuse played 17 games against teams with 10 or more wins–with a record of 4-13. Three of those wins were by Donovan McNabb, one of which was a 10-win Army team that does not belong in that category. Even against 8 and 9 win teams, Syracuse was 13-14-2… slightly below .500.
While Syracuse had some great wins in that era… 1987 Penn State, 1988 Louisiana State, 1991 Florida, 1997 Wisconsin, and 1998 Michigan–the out-of-conference scheduling of elite teams has simply not panned out. If a Texas goes 6-5 (see 1992), perhaps there will be a win. Or perhaps not–see 1993 Texas, 1994 Oklahoma, and 1997 Oklahoma–15-19-1 records and results of 0-2-1.
Further, some of the most impressive Syracuse wins were in bowl games, where several weeks of preparation was not enough for even S.E.C. teams to stifle the Syracuse option. But the inescapable conclusion is that Syracuse has never had any business thinking that it is likely to beat a team with legitimate national championship expectations during the regular season. Even worse, unless Syracuse plans to be a top 8 team, the strength of schedule is IRRELEVANT. A 6-win Syracuse team will go to a bowl. A 5-win team will not. Given that Syracuse has averaged 5.9 wins since Greg Robinson took his incompetence to Michigan and elsewhere, that extra win means a lot. So why not acknowledge reality and schedule for it???