John David Mercer-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: Iowa 20, Syracuse 13
Real result. Same excruciating feeling afterward. How many tries can a team possibly get to score from the goal line and just fail to do so? SU tested this theory years before FHCDM installed the Tank Package. (0-1) (0-0)
Game 2: North Carolina 16, Syracuse 10
Syracuse's offensive woes continue as a garbage time TD is the only thing that keeps this contest respectable. The Orange were never close, with the passing game struggling to gain a rhythm (hi, Perry Patterson) an throwing three interceptions in the process. (0-2) (0-1)
Game 3: Syracuse 33, Duke 27
The Blue Devils were winless in real life back in 2006, just remember that. So while the defense struggled to make stops all afternoon, it was the (formerly listless) offense that needed to step up to pull out the victory. Locked in a close one deep in the fourth, it was Perry Patterson's one-yard run on fourth down that put Syracuse ahead for good with just 1:30 to play. (1-2) (1-1)
Game 4: Syracuse 31, Illinois 21
A real-life result, you'll recall the Orange embarrassing the Illini. Taj Smith would score the first two touchdowns of his career, and SU found itself up 31-7 by the end of the third quarter. (2-2) (1-1)
Game 5: #24 Georgia Tech 31, Syracuse 10
Reggie Ball and Tashard Choice lead a spirited effort for Georgia Tech, cruising to a 24-3 lead at the half. The Yellow Jackets managed over 200 yards on the ground against SU, and the Orange offense sputtered throughout. While Syracuse avoided costly turnovers, dropped passes and an inconsistent running game spelled doom early. (2-3) (1-2)
Game 6: Boston College 24, Syracuse 7
For the second straight week, Syracuse never has a shot, as Boston College runs for 150 yards and three scores in the first half. With such a strong start from his backfield, Eagles' QB Matt Ryan only throws 18 passes (and completes 16) while only playing three quarters. Syracuse's offensive undoing is once again orchestrated by Perry Patterson, who completes 16-of-35 passes for zero scores and one interception. (2-4) (1-3)
Game 7: Syracuse 34, Miami (OH) 14
A welcome respite from ACC play, Syracuse's real-life drubbing of the Redhawks couldn't come at a better time. Curtis Brinkley and Perry Patterson come on strong in the second half, and SU pulls away for good just a few minutes into the fourth quarter. (3-4) (1-3)
Game 8: Syracuse 29, #10 Clemson 26
Syracuse finally puts it all together, pulling a huge upset over a top-10 team at the Carrier Dome. Jerry Mackey and Joe Fields each return interceptions for touchdowns for SU, and Perry Patterson even tops 300 yards. Orange fans rush the field, tearing down the goal posts as a stunned Tommy Bowden looks on from the Tigers' sideline. (4-4) (2-3)
Game 9: Miami (FL) 26, Syracuse 23
Despite the good vibes from last weekend's upset over Clemson, Syracuse comes out flat versus Miami, quickly falling into a 16-3 hole. But the rest of the game would largely belong to SU. Perry Patterson put on another impressive performance, throwing for 374 yards (250 in the second half), and the Orange lose on a last-second field goal. (4-5) (2-4)
Game 10: Syracuse 40, Wyoming 34
Parents weekend always kills off some of the Dome crowd's intensity, and this year was no different. As a freshman that year, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: the Wyoming Cowboys had come into our building and played right with us, forcing overtime with just five seconds remaining. Though Syracuse was out-played the entire game, Delone Carter saved the game (and our pride) with four TDs on the ground. (5-5) (2-4)
Game 11: #14 Wake Forest 20, Syracuse 10
You'll recall that in real life, this was our opening game that season. But this time around, it's the division-clinching win for the eventual ACC champs, the Demon Deacons. 'Cuse managed just 136 yards of offensive that night in a grand display of futility. (5-6) (2-5)
Game 12: Syracuse 29, Virginia 16
With a potential bowl bid on the line, Syracuse does not disappoint the home fans, ending the season with a resounding victory over UVa. After a deadlocked first half, Perry Patterson and the Syracuse passing game poured it on, en route to two passing touchdowns to Mike Williams. Somehow, in his second season,
Greg Gerg Robinson has the Orange going bowling. (6-6) (3-5)
MPC Computers Bowl (Boise, Id.): Syracuse 40, Nevada 16
Syracuse wins its first bowl game since 2001 in impressive fashion, throttling the Wolf Pack over the final three quarters, and scoring a big 24-point victory. Perry Patterson turns in yet another 300-yard game, throwing three touchdowns too, to score MVP honors on the game. On defense, the Orange forced three turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns. (7-6) (3-5)
ACC Football Standings, 2006
1. Wake Forest (12-2) (7-1)
2. Boston College (10-3) (5-3)
3. Maryland (9-4) (5-3)
4. Clemson (8-5) (5-3)
5. Florida State (7-6) (3-5)
6. NC State (3-9) (2-6)
1. Georgia Tech (9-5) (7-1)
2. Miami (8-5) (4-4)
3. Virginia (5-7) (4-4)
4. North Carolina (4-8) (3-5)
5. Syracuse (7-6) (3-5)
6. Duke (0-12) (0-8)
Well, this is an odd turn of events. After what was thought to be (and in real life was) the start of a downslide in 2005, things were supposed to continue that way in 2006. Instead, the "dark period" for Syracuse football has so far consisted of two bowl trips in three years, and not a single season of double-digit losses (yet). Sure, Gerg's still keeping true to his horrific showing in conference play, but the three wins here nearly surpass his entire total in the Big East. And this is supposed to be the better conference, mind you (though having Duke every year helps too).
Next week: We simulate through the 2006-07 basketball season to see if Eric Devendorf and Demtris Nichols can guide to Orange through the ACC better than they did the Big East.