When I was a kid in the 1980s, I was under the impression that WVU was Syracuse's biggest rivalry because that's what I was told. Then the 1987 game happened, then the Marvin Graves brawl game happened, so it sort of made sense. But as it dawned on me over the years that WVU has eyes only for Pitt when it comes to "Big East rivals," it left me with the feeling that, well, we really didn't have a rival.
When I was a student, there was a ridiculous notion that Miami was somehow our rival, which was laughable for a number of reasons (they always killed us, there was no geography or history, and if you asked them to name their top 20 rivals, we probably wouldn't make that list). I understood HATING Miami, but a rivalry? No. Boston College? Well, sure, they're a bunch of douchebags, but no. Penn State? We always thought they were a rival, but when Paterno bagged out of anchoring the Big East, that went bye-bye. I actually always felt that Virginia Tech was our biggest "real" football rival.
The Hokies had come out of nowhere to be a pretty good rival when I was in college in the mid to late 1990s. We routinely exchanged thrilling victories over one another, we would upset them when they were higher ranked (and vice versa), we heavily recruited the same QB (Mike Vick), and there seemed to be some real animosity developing between the programs. The 1998 game where we beat them on the last second might be one of the best finishes to a game in the history of the conference, followed up by a year later when they returned the favor (post-McNabb) by destroying us 62-0 in Blacksburg. We then fell in the Dome the next year on a back-breaking Vick TD run, after Dwight Freeney had spent half the game (and only half due to injury) sacking Vick left and right. In the early 2000s, there was the post-Vick upset at Va Tech when they were ranked #4 in the country and we out Beamer-balled them by completely dominating on special teams (which was actually a LONG under-appreciated trait of all Paul Pasqualoni-coached teams). Then during Pasqualoni's disastrous 2002 season (the 4-8 year where we almost upset Auburn at Auburn), we actually DID upset Va Tech once again in the Dome.
But then, of course, Va Tech left for the ACC. That left us with a HUGE "hate" itch to scratch.
Enter Rutgers, our former whipping boy. We have always fished in the same recruiting waters with the Scarlet Knights, but never gave them a second thought because we absolutely owned that program (as did everybody, because Rutgers sucked so hard for so long). Then when our program went into decline, that started to change, as we started suffering embarrassing upset losses to pitiful Rutgers teams. When Gross knee-jerked fired Pasqualoni without having a good replacement lined up, Rutgers swooped in and snagged Ray Rice and Courtney Greene (among others), and prior to that, they had the Leonard brothers (two guys who, in years past, would have worn Orange and blue). Our fall from glory was their gain, and now we have a dogfight on our hands to reassert our dominance. Now, it's true that Rutgers lacks our tradition, but in the "what have you done for me lately" world, we as 'Cuse fans have to remember that our program has been nationally irrelevant for almost a decade.
The series between the two teams has never been a rivalry until recently, largely because we kicked the stuffing out of them for so long, and once we started sucking, they returned the favor. However, last Saturday's game sent a very clear shot across the bow of the Scarlet Knight football program. I don't think that because we throttled them that it's really a case of, "oh well, now we are back to dominating Rutgers." No. I think what it indicated, though, is that Rutgers is no longer going to dominate us, and that the most recent five year blip in our series history is just that - a blip.
Someone in another thread made a great point about them being so geographically similar to us that we are practically brothers. In this case, Rutgers is our pain-in-the-ass younger brother who has finally come into his own a little bit, able to bloody our nose once in a while, just as we are able to bloody theirs. When you throw in the fact that their coach comes off as smug and unlikable, it only helps matters along. Their fans hate us, and we can't stand the fact that they puff their chests out when they really - in our eyes - have accomplished nothing. Are they at our "level" in terms of what the programs accomplished in the 20th century? Of course not. But frankly, a lot of that is ancient history. I mean, hell, Army used to win national championships in football. That has absolutely nothing to do with today.
So to boil it down...we hate them, they hate us, and the campuses are within four hours of one another. Also, both "claim" to be the team of NYC, as other posters have pointed out. I mean, I understand the hatred of Rutgers and the unwillingness to acknowledge them as a rival, because we still sometimes make the mistake of not taking them seriously. They, in turn, can't stand when we remind them constantly that they are historically one of the worst bottom feeders of all time. In my opinion, that's what fuels a good rivalry. Seriously...how many of us thought to ourselves, "well, if we get one Big East win this year, I hope it's against Rutgers, because I can't stand that team."
Be honest....a lot of us felt that way. Or maybe it's just me, because I live in New Jersey :)