The first time Syracuse and Rutgers played each other in 1914, they tied (14-14). It would be the last time the two teams walked onto the same field evenly matched against one another.
From that point forward up until 2004, Syracuse basically dominated this series the way hairspray dominates the hair of a Staten Island meathead pumping fists at D'Jais. Between 1917 and 2004, the Orange won 28 times and lost only six. That includes a stretch of 12-straight W's between 1987 and 1998.
Then, in the early 2000's the winds of change blew through both campuses and the roles were suddenly reversed. The Scarlet Knights have won the last four meetings of this series and five of the last six. Unheard-of for a team that hadn't ever won back-to-back games against the Orange in the previous 80 years.
Now, Rutgers might not have ascended the heights predicted by some after their breakout 10-win season a few years back. However, they have proven themselves adept at maintaining relevancy, albeit with a little scheduling help along the way. The Orange are in the beginning stages of a rebirth, one that still has a ways to go. But if the Orange are capable of at least returning to mediocrity in the next couple years, it could very well set the stage for the great football rivalry that both schools so desperately need.
Syracuse doesn't really have a true football rival. West Virginia's the closest thing and Mountaineer fans will be quick to tell you they don't exactly feel the same way. Boston College was growing into a rival, but, you know what happened there. Then there's Rutgers. On paper, it makes perfect sense. We fight for the same territory (Upstate, NYC, NJ). We both have a vested interest in the #1 media market in the nation. We're conference rivals. And finally, something that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, there's bad blood.
You can thank Greg Robinson for some of that. His weird anti-Rutgers comments just made SU look even worse than they were and enforced Rutgers' newfound status as a recruiting power in the area. Since then (and probably even before it), Schiano has been a bit of a nudnik to Orange fans, taking thinly-veiled jabs at the Orange when they can. Plus, most SU fans still assume it was Schiano who was the phantom Big East coach that called The Paulus Experiment a "spectacular failure" before the season started). Plus when you factor in the kind of cheap tactics he's taken at other Big East programs, he's the perfect villain for SU fans to dislike.
(Of course, he's also been taking some thinly-veiled shots at Greg Robinson by referring to Doug Marrone as "a good guy, and one of us — a Northeastern guy." Even SU fans can argue with that.)
Then there's instances like the story of Scott Vallone, which damningly illustrates the reality of Syracuse and Rutgers recruiting right now. Vallone grew up a die-hard SU fan but when it came time for the OT to choose his school, it was a no-brainer to go to Rutgers.
"I think it has to do with Rutgers’ success," said Vallone. "Guys from Long Island never realized Rutgers was as close as it is when Rutgers was losing. They never really knew about it. Syracuse was always the ‘home-town school.’ Since Rutgers started winning it’s Rutgers."
Bad times. But you know how I really know we're hitting rivalry-status? Our beat reporters are fighting.
You probably saw Donnie Webb's piece the other day on whether or not Greg Schiano is Public Enemy #1 for Orange fans. While I'm not he reaches that level, he's certainly in the Legion of Doom for reasons outlined by Donnie and above. Well Jerry Sanchez over at NJ.com noticed the post and decided to go apocalypse now on Donnie and Orange fans in response.
Wasn’t it funny to see how right after Rutgers burst on to the scene in 2006 and 2007 all of a sudden the Orangemen started wearing a little "NY" on the back of their helmets? How cute! Then there were the ads on the cabs in New York City reminding people that Syracuse was New York’s college team. I guess when you win two or three games a year and the school is closer to Canada than to Manhattan you will need to do some reminding.
Where do we go from here? Chances are, thanks to the roster depletion and talent-gap, the Orange are expected to lose on Saturday. But next year is a new year and for SU, possibly the beginning of the climb back up. If the Orange can beat Rutgers at some point in the next three seasons, we might be looking at the true beginnings of a great rivalry. As we all remember from the Miami days, it's not a real rivalry unless both teams are winning. We've got the bad blood and vitriol down, now we just need to make this sucker competitive. Given the history of the series, easier said than done.