Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse didn't make it to the ACC when the league expanded back in 2004; but what if the Orange had been added originally, instead of Virginia Tech?
Nearly every Syracuse Orange fan remembers the shenanigans of 2003 when the Orange, bags packed for the ACC, were replaced at the last minute by Virginia Tech, courtesy of then-Va. governor Mark Warner's insistence. The move would result in a decade-long run of success for the Hokies in their new home, while SU spent nearly 10 years struggling in the Big East.
But what if things had happened the other way? What if Jim Boeheim's complaints about the switch fell on deaf ears, and what if Warner's efforts to upgrade the Hokies were undone before he could extract them from the Big East? Would things have gone dramatically different for Syracuse in the ACC all this time?
With some help from sports simulation site WhatIfSports.com, we can take at least a speculative look at what might've been for Syracuse on a season-by-season basis. While these simulations won't build new recruiting classes or anything like that, we can take a look at where the Orange would've fallen overall, had they made the ACC switch earlier.
Please note that for our purposes here, SU's most lopsided non-conference losses each season have been dropped in favor of one or more in-conference game (depending on necessity). Additionally, each year will simply use Virginia Tech's in-conference slate, so as not to create a brand new scheduling matrix. SU will also compete in football's Coastal division (rather than the Atlantic division they've been placed in in real life), just as Virginia Tech did starting in their second ACC season (2005).
Game 1: West Virginia 15, Syracuse 7
This is a real result, though for our purposes here, it's a non-conference game against our former heated rivals. The Greg Robinson
era error gets off to a disappointing start, and the Mountaineers get an extra laugh at SU's expense following the team's close bowl matchup following the 2004 season. (0-1) (0-0)
Game 2: Syracuse 31, Buffalo 0
Again, we revisit the "good times" when the Bulls were among the worst programs at the FBS level, and Syracuse could easily torch its Upstate rivals. Just like real life, hope appears renewed after two games (1-1) (0-0)
Game 3: No. 25 Virginia 27, Syracuse 24
Another real result, though this time it counts as a conference game. The Orange lose a heartbreaker to a ranked team, but there's some optimism left in the tank for the rest of ACC play. (1-2) (0-1)
Game 4: NC State 23, Syracuse 9
Syracuse struggles to move the ball through the air, as Perry Patterson completes less than 50 percent of his passes, while throwing two picks in the process. Damien Rhodes runs moderately well on 25 carries (76 yards), though the offensive line proves porous throughout the contest, also allowing five sacks. (1-3) (0-2)
Game 5: Syracuse 30, Duke 19
In this alternate reality, Syracuse gets itself to the two-win mark, guaranteeing they avoid the program’s first 10-loss season in its illustrious history. Perry Patterson has a nice rebound game, passing for 207 yards and two scores (both to Joseph Kowalewski) and Damien Rhodes turns in another strong day on the ground while running for 167 yards. Steve Gregory and Anthony Smith both record interceptions for SU in the victory as well. (2-3) (1-2)
Game 6: Syracuse 15, No. 15 Georgia Tech 6
The Syracuse offense largely continues to struggle, but its defense proves far too formidable for Georgia Tech as they claw back to the .500 mark. On the day, SU records five sacks, while holding the Ramblin' Wreck to just 280 yards of offense. Damien Rhodes is the only Orange player to find the end zone, scoring on a 12-yard scamper in the first quarter. (3-3) (2-2)
Game 7: Maryland 23, Syracuse 0
The Orange's two-game winning streak ends abruptly after being shut out by the Terrapins. Syracuse only manages 187 total yards of offense in the game, while also losing two fumbles. Maryland, on the other hand, controls the ball for twice as long as SU, and QB Sam Hollenbach completes 24 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown. (3-4) (2-3)
Game 8: No. 13 Boston College 34, Syracuse 19
The two rivals hang close for the first half, but after a big third quarter for the Eagles, the result here is never really in doubt. Though Syracuse threw the ball with as much effectiveness as you'd see all season (Patterson completed 22 passes for 328 yards), the team just couldn't overcome two interceptions that ultimately made the difference in that big third quarter for BC. (3-5) (2-4)
Game 9: No. 5 Miami 32, Syracuse 12
This one was over by halftime, with Miami taking a 26-3 lead into the locker room. 'Canes running back ran all over the SU front, tallying 156 yards and two scores – most of which by the end of the first 30 minutes. Once again, Perry Patterson was a liability, completing just 14 of 33 passes for 150 yards and two interceptions. And the Orange are officially ineligible for the postseason. (3-6) (2-5)
Game 10: No. 6 Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 10
This embarrassing display was a real performance by SU, and in this simulation, it's their third straight loss -- all to top-15 opponents. (3-7) (2-5)
Game 11: North Carolina 23, Syracuse 19
Syracuse's passing defense strikes again, as UNC quarterback Matt Baker throws for 248 yards and two scores -- including the final dagger with just four minutes remaining. As was the case all season, Damien Rhodes carried the offense, and was primarily held back by Perry Patterson, who threw two more interceptions. The Orange end the season on a five-game losing streak. (3-8) (2-6)
ACC Football Standings, 2005
1. Boston College (10-2) (6-2)
2. Florida State (7-4) (5-3)
3. Clemson (8-4) (4-4)
4. NC State (8-4) (4-4)
5. Maryland (6-5) (4-4)
6. Wake Forest (4-7) (3-5)
1. Miami (9-3) (6-2)
2. Georgia Tech (8-4) (6-2)
3. North Carolina (6-5) (5-3)
4. Virginia (7-5) (3-5)
5. Syracuse (3-8) (2-6)
6. Duke (1-10) (0-8)
After one season of
Greg Gerg Robinson, Syracuse has nearly equaled its conference win total (three) from his entire real four-year stint there. And while 3-8 is still a severely disappointing campaign, we benefit from knowing just how truly awful it could've been (1-10; the worst season in school history).
Curious what happens in our second ACC basketball season? We simulate through 2005-06 next week.