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: Northwestern 30, Syracuse 10
A real-life result, the Wildcats doubled the Orange's yardage and tripled their points in this disappointing opening game. Tyrell Sutton and C.J. Bacher would give SU fits all day, providing the lion's share of the offense for Northwestern. For those interested, Syracuse QB Andrew Robinson was 14-for-28 with 103 yards passing (/dies). (0-1) (0-0)
Game 2: Akron 42, Syracuse 28
I brought this game up in the comments on Monday, and I still feel sick to my stomach. To me (and most), this was the low-point of the real Gerg era, and in this alternate reality, I'd only assume losing to a MAC team at home would feel just as terrible. (0-2) (0-0)
Game 3: Georgia Tech 30, Syracuse 9
The Orange don't have a chance in hell in this one, starting the game down 20-0 before picking up a couple field goals in the second quarter. Cam Dantley is just 11-of-36 for 156 yards and three interceptions. But at least Curtis Brinkley tops the 100-yard rushing mark for Syracuse (while also fumbling late in the game). (0-3) (0-1)
Game 4: Syracuse 30, Northeastern 21
I'd make a crack about this team and an inability to put away FCS teams, but given recent results from better SU squads, I don't think we have that luxury. At least the 2008 team avoids losing every game this season, right? (1-3) (0-1)
Game 5: North Carolina 47, Syracuse 7
UNC kicker Casey Barth (17 points) outscores Syracuse all by himself, and the Heels run away with this matchup from the very beginning. The Orange had just 11 first downs on the contest and would not score until the last play of the game: a garbage time touchdown pass from Dantley to Donte Davis. (1-4) (0-2)
Game 6: Boston College 31, Syracuse 10
Boston College wins a laugher against rival SU, as the Orange's offensive struggles reach ridiculous levels. Once again, Syracuse does not score until the fourth quarter, and once again, Brinkley tops the 100-yard mark with literally no one watching. (1-5) (0-3)
Game 7: Syracuse 30, #24 Florida State 27 (3OT)
Syracuse upsets a ranked FSU team in Tallahassee because "SURE!" Doug Hogue runs in a late score to force overtime at 24-24, and then the two teams bludgeon each other for three OTs before Patrick Shadle connects on a 30-yarder to give SU what is one of the biggest wins during its ACC tenure. The Orange defense put on an incredibly strong performance, terrorizing future NFL quarterback Christian Ponder for six sacks and five interceptions. (2-5) (1-3)
Game 8: #23 Maryland 26, Syracuse 10
... And the next week, things just regress viciously to the mean. Dantley avoids mistakes and the defense puts in another impressive showing (eight sacks on the game), but it's just not enough to stop the Terps' rushing attack. Maryland racks up 255 yards on the ground, and SU loses the time-of-possession battle by over 15 minutes. (2-6) (1-4)
Game 9: Miami 26, Syracuse 13
Down 19-0 early, Syracuse at least tries to battle back against Miami, courtesy of a vintage Brinkley performance: 24 rushes for 148 yards and a score. Things get desperate at the end and Andrew Robinson is put into the game to try and work some magic. The gamble doesn't pay off (you're shocked), and the Orange lose their seventh game of the year. (2-7) (1-5)
Game 10: Duke 17, Syracuse 13
Any hope that Gerg was sticking around this program died when the team lost to Duke at the Carrier Dome on this November Saturday; AD Darryl Gross informs him of the decision soon after Syracuse is manhandled by the Blue Devils. Despite four possessions in the fourth quarter, the Orange can't make up the four-point deficit, squandering a 197-yard rushing effort by Brinkley. (2-8) (1-6)
Game 11: Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23
Driven by the team's soon-to-be-departing head coach, Syracuse finds the strength to come back from 13 down in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. Despite the fact that this is a real result, it doesn't make it any more believable than the simulations. It's going to be fun when ESPN continually brings this one up when we play the Irish in 2014. (3-8) (1-6)
Game 12: Virginia 27, Syracuse 6
In their final contest under Gerg, SU tallies its eighth game of the season scoring 13 points or less. Appropriately, down 27-0 in the fourth, the Orange settle for two garbage-time field goals instead of trying to score touchdowns from inside the 20. Some see it as a tribute to their head coach. Fans see it as a brutal end to a brutal era. (3-9) (1-7)
Updated ACC Football Standings, 2007
1. Boston College (9-5) (5-3)
2. Maryland (9-4) (5-3)
3. Florida State (8-5) (4-4)
4. Wake Forest (8-5) (4-4)
5. Clemson (7-6) (4-4)
6. NC State (6-7) (4-4)
1. Georgia Tech (10-3) (6-2)
2. North Carolina (9-4) (5-3)
3. Miami (7-6) (4-4)
4. Virginia (6-6) (4-4)
5. Duke (5-7) (2-6)
6. Syracuse (3-9) (1-7)
While that was ugly to relive, at least the Orange get a well-deserved coaching change out of the deal. After parting with Robinson, the school hires SU alumnus Doug Marrone to lead the team back to respectability. Marrone's enthusiasm for the program and school catch on almost immediately, and fans are hopeful for brighter days ahead. Robinson would leave Syracuse with a 16-32 overall record (8-24 in the ACC) and a bowl victory -- still better than his real-life marks of 10-37 (3-25).
Next week: This alternate reality scrubs the Six Overtime Game from all of our memories, though I'm sure Eric Devendorf will find another reason to jump on a scorers table and thump his chest during the 2008-09 basketball season.