I coudn't really pose any Best of 2010 questions about Syracuse sports at-large until the year was officially over. Such is the case when you play in late-December bowl games (we're new to this).
Now that we're here and we've had a few days to decompress, we can properly look back with a little context as we try to arbitrarily figure out what was the No. 1 Syracuse-related sports moment of 2010.
There were plenty of great moments spread throughout the year (SU basketball named No. 1, SU beats Vermont in NCAA Tourney, Rakeem Christmas picks SU, beating USF in football, beating West Virginia in football, Wes Johnson picked 4th, SU wins Big East basketball regular season, Jim Boeheim wins #800). But I think we can all agree (mostly) that there were two events that happened in 2010 worthy of being considered the best of the best.
Question is, which one was the best of the best of the best?
Was it Syracuse defeating Villanova in front of 34,616 fans...or was it Syracuse winning the Pinstripe Bowl?
Syracuse vs. Villanova had already been pegged as a major game before Big East play started. ESPN had slated the game for a GameDay crew appearance in the Dome. The Wildcats were expected to be a top five team and the Orange were looking like a quality host.
By the time the game rolled around, the Orange were 26-2 (13-2) and ranked fourth in the nation while the Wildcats were 22-4 (12-3) and eight in the nation. Furthermore, the Carrier Dome decided to open up ticketing for the game to a "sellout" of 34,616, breaking the Dome and NCAA attendance record previously set by Syracuse in 2006.
SU students camped out for days and the build-up to the game took on the kind of atmosphere usually reserved for SEC football games. By the time the game rolled around, there was no way the 34,616 in the building were going to let their Orange lose.
And they didn't. Syracuse won the game with relative ease 95-77. Adding to the jubilation, two higher-ranked teams lost in the same week and the Orange were catapulted to the No. 1 spot in the nation for the first time since 1990. It was the first time Syracuse had ever been ranked No. 1 this late in the season.
This game represents the "rebirth" of Syracuse basketball from good program to elite program. We may just look back on this as the next golden era of SU hops and 34,616 will be one of its cornerstones.
Even with a schedule that featured two FCS schools, the Syracuse football team wasn't supposed to go back to a bowl anytime soon. 6-6 was a best-case scenario but most folks pegged the Orange for a 5-7 or 4-8 finish. Sure the Big East was soft but, come on, this was Syracuse. Greg Robinson, losses to Miami (OH) and Akron and did I mention Greg Robinson?
Doug Marrone was doing a good job, but this was a reclamation job years in the making.
As expected, the Orange dispatched with Akron, Maine and Colgate. And just as expected, they were throttled by Jake Locker and Washington. To say Syracuse's 3-1 record at the end of September was dubious in the eyes of the nation would be an understatement.
Then Syracuse beat South Florida. Sure, we're not talking about Ohio State here but that wasn't supposed to happen. Not yet.
A 45-14 loss to Pitt assured everyone that the USF win was just an anomaly.
Then Syracuse beat West Virginia. WEST VIRGINIA! And then put up 31 points on two-time defending conference champ Cincinnati. All of a sudden Syracuse was 6-2.
Because of the FCS scheduling, the Orange needed seven wins to become bowl eligible. And yet, here we were at the end of October and it was possible. Only one win was needed.
Only one win the Orange would get. A 1-3 November brought the fans back down to Earth but not so much that they couldn't celebrate the season that was. Syracuse was 7-5, they were going to finish the season with a winning record and they were going to a bowl game.
That bowl game ended up being the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl. Awaiting the Orange would be familiar foe Kansas State. In a way, a poetic opportunity. The Orange hadn't finished the season with a winning record since 2001. That was also the last time SU won a bowl game. Their opponent? Kansas State.
There's also the whole fact that the Pinstripe Bowl was taking place in New York City. You may have heard of a little something called the "New York's College Team" campaign. You may have also heard that Doug Marrone grew up down the road from Yankee Stadium, where the game was to be played. The stars were aligned.
Some will tell you that it didn't matter if Syracuse won the game or not but that's nonsense. A win would have turned a 7-5 season into an 8-5 one and would have heralded to the football world that Syracuse was no fluke. That the Orange were indeed "back."
In arguably the best bowl game of the 2010-11 season (so far), the Orange would prevail 36-34. If not for a terrible penalty at the end of the game that marred the outcome, the game would be remembered solely for Syracuse's program-altering win. As it is, Doug Marrone got the Gatorade bath. DOC Gross and Nancy Cantor danced the night away. Syracuse players stormed the field and sand the alma mater, a stadium packed with SU fans and alums went nuts and the college football world was served notice that Syracuse was, in fact, back.