We are nearing the conclusion of what has been a looooooong third season of Syracuse football under the direction of Greg Robinson. Given that the end is near, I thought I'd take a look back at the schedule and examine the teams that the mighty Orange have done battle with to see how their seasons are turning out and examine, in the words of the great Dennis Green, if they are who we thought they were.
The Washington Huskies
Record When They Played SU: 0-0
Record Since: 4-7
Who We Thought They Were: A team like Syracuse that was rebuilding under a new coach who was also entering his third season and starting a new, highly publicized quarterback for the first time. In short, we thought they'd be on fairly equal footing with Syracuse - except for the fact that they had to fly across the country and play in the loud, hot Carrier Dome in late August.
What Happened/What it Means: A Washington team that played arguably one of the hardest schedules in the country, yet ultimately turned out to be mildly disappointing, embarrassed SU on national television to the tune of 42-12. It was a precursor of the entire season.
The Iowa Hawkeyes
Record When They Played SU: 1-0
Record Since: 5-6
Who We Thought They Were: A perennial contender in the Big 10, a big physical team that would present a tough challenge for Syracuse. Also a team Syracuse lost in overtime to the season before.
What Happened/What it Means: The hawkeyes absolutely dominated Syracuse, shutting out the Orange 35-0 in what may have been the worst offensive performance of the Robinson era - which is kind of like being the biggest meal Mark Mangino has ever eaten. While this loss is understandable, the appalling aspect of it was the fact that Syracuse was totally dominated by team that ended up being mediocre in a mediocre Big 10. A 35 point loss to this team was a horrible showing to say the least.
The Illinois Fighting Illini
Record When They Played SU: 1-1
Record Since: 8-2
Who We Thought They Were: Another rebuilding team, a team Syracuse beat on their home field last year, a team with a head coach who had not proven much.
What Happened/What it Means: Illinois came into the Carrier Dome and dominated the Orange, winning 41-20. At the time it looked like another horrific loss, but it was actually a springboard to an unexpected, highly successful season for Ron Zook's team. It was also the second home game in a row that sent fans running for the exits far before the final whistle had blown - a hallmark of the Greg Robinson era.
The Louisville Cardinals
Record When They Played SU: 2-1
Record Since: 3-5
Who We Thought They Were: One of the best teams in the Big East and potentially one of the best teams in the country.
What Happened/What it Means: The Orange stunned the Cardinals 38-35 in what has been easily the biggest win in the Greg Robinson era. At the time fans, including this Idiot, thought it could be a turning point for the young SU team. The rest of the season would prove that Louisville was a vastly overrated team, and the only turn Syracuse would take after this game was down.
The Miami of Ohio Redhawks
Record When They Played SU: 1-3
Record Since: 5-2
Who We Thought They Were: A bad MAC team that SU beat by 20 points the year before and a team that was banged up and starting a 3rd string tailback.
What Happened/What it Means: In a game that most felt would be Syracuse's second win of the year, Miami of Ohio defeated the Orange 17-14. It was an extremely winnable game and ultimately a demoralizing loss for the fan base. The team came out flat and played uninspired, it told me all I needed to know about Greg Robinson as a head coach. On the flip side, like Illinois, Miami used the victory as a springboard to a successful year in the MAC. Well done Coach Shane Montgomery.
The West Virginia Mountaineers
Record When They Played SU: 4-1
Record Since: 5-0
Who We Thought They Were: The best team in the Big East and one of the nation's elite.
What Happened/What it Means: The Mountaineers, coming off a loss to South Florida for the second consecutive year, took Syracuse to the woodshed, 55-14 and the game wasn't even that close. Afterwards, Robinson talked about seeing seeing positives, I was there, all I saw was the demise of a once great rivalry. This team is not close to competing with WVA, and I fear it will be years before we reach that point again. Coach Ben is probably rolling over in his grave. Ultimately, West Virginia proved to be as good as advertised, and Syracuse proved to be as bad.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record When They Played SU: 3-2
Record Since: 4-2
Who We Thought They Were: An over hyped team that had fattened its record against a weak out of conference schedule and had lost its last 2 games to BCS teams.
What Happened/What it Means: Syracuse jumped out to a 14-0 lead, only to let Rutgers score the last 38 points of the game. Another embarrassing home loss to a team that Syracuse used to dominate. The failure to capitalize on a hot start lead to a quick collapse and an empty dome half way through the 4th quarter. Rutgers went on to prove they are a decent team by beating South Florida, but getting destroyed by WVA and UConn. Another example of a rival program flying by Syracuse.
The Buffalo Bulls
Record When They Played SU: 3-4
Record Since: 1-3
Who We Thought They Were: A MAC team that had only revived its football program in 1999, and although much improved, a team Syracuse should never, ever lose to.
What Happened/What it Means: In an empty Carrier Dome, Syracuse won 20-12. The game was not a thing of beauty, with Syracuse scoring just enough to win, and letting Buffalo's spread offense control the ball for long stretches of the game. It also marked an injury to Curtis Brinkley, and a strong debut by freshman running back Doug Hogue. The game, a must win if there ever was one, proved two things - Buffalo, under Coach Turner Gill is improving, while Syracuse has regressed to the point where the team split its two games against MAC teams this year.
The Pittsburgh Panthers
Record When They Played SU: 3-5
Record Since: 1-1
Who We Thought They Were: A great rival who was also struggling under the leadership of a long-time NFL coach, Dave Wannstedt. A team we should be able to beat.
What Happened/What it Means: Andrew Robinson plays the first half with a broken rib and the offensive line is truly offensive the whole game as Pitt squeaks out a 20-17 win. Cameron Dantley comes on and plays well in the second half for Syracuse, but too many breakdowns on the o-line keep the Orange from getting back in the win column. While Pitt and SU are in very similar situations, the big difference is that Pitt is not getting blown out of games with the same regularity as Syracuse. They also occasionally win games, a concept foreign to Coach Robinson.
The South Florida Bulls
Record When They Played SU: 6-3
Record Since: 2-0
Who We Thought They Were: The former number 2 team in the nation that had managed to lose 3 straight. In other words, they were good, but vulnerable.
What Happened/What it Means: Syracuse fumbled the opening kickoff and the rout was on. It was another beating that, if it was a boxing match, would have been stopped long before the final bell. Of course, the final bell for fans in the Carrier Dome came as soon as halftime for some. An empty building and an embarrassing loss was all the Orange had to show for the game. The fact that they lost to a better team isn't an issue as far as I'm concerned, the real issue is the margin of defeat and the huge gap in competitiveness between the teams. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt, when talking about injuries after the game, noted his team had suffered quite a few throughout the season, and that injuries are never an excuse. Amen.
The Connecticut Huskies
Record When They Played SU: 8-2
Record Since: 1-0
Who We Thought They Were: Another team, like Rutgers, that had fattened up on a weak out of conference schedule and a team that because of bad calls by referees, won games against Temple and Louisville they should have lost.
What Happened/What it Means: UConn, playing before a sell out crowd, defeats the Orange 30-7. Syracuse left many chances on the field and actually ran the ball successfully, but the outcome of the game was never in doubt. While UConn does not possess superior athletes, they do have a system that works, a belief in themselves, and a Coach in Syracuse Alum Randy Edsall that is getting results in a program short on tradition.
So there you have it cuse fans, a painful recap of a painful season, that mercifully ends tomorrow night. In the end, opponents like Washington and Iowa that blew out the orange proved to be worse losses than they originally looked to be on paper. Losses to teams like Illinois make more sense now than they did at the time, however the sad common theme is that Syracuse can lose to any team on any given day, and they usually do.