Syracuse vs. Rutgers: SU's Last Big East Football Rivalry

Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Syracuse doesn't like Rutgers. Rutgers doesn't like Syracuse. The Orange finally have a legitimate rival in Big East football. Shame it has to end just as it's getting so good.

If the Syracuse Orange defeat the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday, they will reclaim sole possession of 15th place all-time in FBS program wins (shaking off Virginia Tech, who tied us a few weeks ago).

That's coincidental but it leads into a discussion about what drives the Syracuse-Rutgers rivalry which, for better or worse and whether you want to admit it, has become Syracuse's top, and only, heated rivalry in Big East football.

These two programs go way back. Way back. Everyone knows Rutgers played the first official college football game (they'll be happy to remind you). They've also played more football games than any other current FBS program still playing (1,267). Syracuse is fifth on that list at 1,236.

It's when you break down those games into victories that the schools separate. While Syracuse could reclaim the 15th spot for it's own by getting its 694th victory all-time, Rutgers currently rests at 616 wins, 38th all-time.

And no FBS program has lost more games than Rutgers. They've dropped 604 games. The next closest FBS school? Virginia with 559. Their .505 winning percentage is the worst among NCAA programs with at least 600 wins by far (though Maryland is doing what they can to catch up).

Keeping with those numbers, it's no surprise that Syracuse dominates this series all-time (30-11-1). That tie came in the very first meeting way back in 1914, 14-14. After that, Syracuse won eight-straight in the series, including a three-game stretch in which the Knights didn't score a point.

On paper, someone who knows nothing of college football need simply look at the stats and the history and decide that that Syracuse is clearly the better program.

And yet...

In the last decade, as we may be loathe to admit it publicly, Rutgers has been the better program by a mile. They're 6-3 in the last nine meetings, including a stretch between '05 and '08 in which they won every game. Since 2005, Rutgers won at least seven games in five of the six seasons while Syracuse reached that mark once. Rutgers went to six bowl game, Syracuse went to one. Rutgers football became relevant, Syracuse football became irrelevant.

Compounding issues, Rutgers' success was completely related to Syracuse's decline. As Coach P let the program slide into mediocrity and Greg Robinson burned it to the ground, Greg Schiano took advantage on the recruiting trail and by staking his claim to NYC and North Jersey. Rutgers' long-dormant fanbase suddenly emerged from hibernation and before the Orange knew it, the team they were used to beating 50-3 ('97) and 70-14 ('98) was the one dominating them.

And so, here we are. 2012. Rutgers is 5-0, nationally-ranked and on the verge of proving that they're more than a one-coach wonder. Syracuse is 2-3, four years into the Doug Marrone Era and still a giant question mark of mediocrity.

Speaking as someone who grew up 20 minutes from New Brunswick and never saw a car with a Rutgers bumper sticker on it until 2005, I can tell you that Rutgers fans are, in spite of being the oldest of old programs, new money. They're flush with wins and recent success. What they don't have yet is legitimacy. Deny it all they want, they still carry with them the mark of so many horrible teams that came before them, at least in terms of national relevance. It's why they shout to the rooftops about TV market numbers and brag about conference titles that no self-respecting program would ever care to mention. They still feel like no one thinks they're any good and all the bowl games and Big East wins don't seem to do anything to change the past.

Syracuse, on the other hand, is an old money family trying to make sense after losing everything on Wall Street. Orange fans spend much of their time cringing and rolling their eyes every time they see someone snarkily write-off Syracuse football as a crap program. We don't like to admit it but every time someone makes a "Don't worry ACC, Syracuse football is coming to save the day" remark, it stings. We want to be like that Rutgers fan bragging about the past, except our past is actually legitimate. A National Title, a Heisman Trophy winner, the 1987 season, multiple Big East titles, multiple "BCS" bowls. Up until the turn of the century, we might not have been an elite program but we were certainly a relevant one. Coming to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse was considered a real challenge, not an expected win.

Syracuse wants what Rutgers has (relevancy, wins, bowl games) while Rutgers wants what Syracuse has (tradition, respect for it's history & place in the game). And because the success of one is linked to the failure of the other, it's inevitable that we flat-out despise one another.

It also doesn't hurt that the last couple years have made for some of the closest, most-heated games in the almost 100-year history of the rivalry. Every year, the game has huge implications for both teams and, every year, the stakes seem just as high as the year before.

I will be sorry to see this rivalry end because, here at the end, it finally became a true rivalry. In fact, with West Virginia gone, it's become Syracuse's only real rivalry on the gridiron. There are stakes here that you just can't find against Pitt or Louisville or even UConn. We'll have Boston College when we join the ACC but that will take time to rekindle the hate. Or at least try to refocus it from New Jersey to Boston.

Even then, I'm not sure it will be the same.

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