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: Syracuse 36, Wake Forest 29 (OT)
We all remember this real-life result, except this time it counts toward Syracuse's conference W-L record. A furious fourth-quarter comeback brought the Orange back to life against the Demon Deacons, and ultimately led to a thrilling overtime victory. Seems the magic from last season is till very much alive. (1-0) (1-0)
Game 2: Syracuse 21, Rhode Island 14
Those pesky FCS teams. Despite the Syracuse offense racking up 90 more yards than the Rams, the Orange still needed some late heroics to seal the victory. The SU ground game was atrocious, picking up just 36 yards, and despite the win, there are plenty of questions surrounding just how effective this team can be in the long-term. (2-0) (1-0)
**Breaking News: In a shock to the college football world, ESPN reports that the ACC has offered invitations to Big East members Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. This will bring the ACC to 14 teams, and reunite Syracuse with some of its former "rivals" from the league it helped found decades ago.
Game 3: USC 38, Syracuse 17
Another real-life result. SU started off the game looking as if they'd hang around, but Matt Barkley's Trojan offense was simply too much for the Orange defense to handle. The USC QB would throw five scores, lighting up the Syracuse secondary in embarrassing fashion. After two close calls to start the year, few are surprised by this result. (2-1) (1-0)
Game 4: Syracuse 33, Toledo 30 (OT)
I don't care what "actually" happened on that extra point by Ross Krautman. The refs said it counted, so that's enough for me. Still, another close call for the Orange, who have made a habit out of these in their three wins on the season. Syracuse fans (this one included) are having heart palpitations every Saturday and it's getting a bit tiresome. (3-1) (1-0)
Game 5: #13 Clemson 45, Syracuse 30
Despite the loss, the Dome faithful are treated to a pretty fun game on this crisp October 1st, as the Tigers and Orange put on an aerial show all afternoon. Clemson's Tajh Boyd throws for 375 yards and six scores, while Ryan Nassib has 365 yards and three TDs of his own, but it's not enough to make a difference for the 'Cuse. Third down struggles (just 7-of-20) spelled doom for the home team, who otherwise outgained the opposition the entire contest. (3-2) (1-1)
Game 6: Syracuse 37, Tulane 34
The Orange gave up a big lead against the Green Wave, and then almost choked away this real-life result completely. But luckily, Ross Krautman was able to connect on the game-winner as the clock expired. Despite four wins on the year, SU is getting little respect from the national media after so many very close calls against underwhelming opponents. (4-2) (1-1)
Game 7: Miami 27, Syracuse 12
Miami walked into the Dome and simply stomped out the Orange, taking a 27-9 lead into the fourth quarter that failed to tell the full story of SU's futility. Ryan Nassib was under pressure the entire afternoon, taking seven sacks while completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Syracuse's defense, on the other hand, makes Miami's Jacory Harris look like a Heisman contender (294 yards passing and three scores). (4-3) (1-2)
Game 8: Syracuse 28, Boston College 26
Down 13-7 going into the fourth, it looked like Syracuse had simply run out of gas after a hot start to the season. But Ryan Nassib caught fire in the final 15 minutes, throwing three touchdown passes -- including one with 17 seconds remaining -- and the Orange beat their heated rival for win number five on the year. (5-3) (2-2)
Game 9: Duke 45, Syracuse 20
... And then this happens. Ryan Nassib follows up the previous week's inspiring performance by laying a dud here, getting picked off four times in total during a mostly inaccurate night game in Durham. Sean Renfree, on the other hand, completes 37 passes against SU, going after the beleaguered secondary over and over again, to much success. (5-4) (2-3)
Game 10: Syracuse 40, #20 Georgia Tech 20
The up and down season continues, but at least Syracuse is going bowling! The Orange ride a 27-0 run in the second and third quarters to grab a huge lead on the Yellow Jackets on the road, and then simply coast through the fourth while Tech tries to make it look respectable in garbage time. Though SU's run game is mostly ineffective, Ryan Nassib bounces back to the tune of 314 yards and four touchdown passes to lead the offense. (6-4) (3-3)
Game 11: Syracuse 26, North Carolina 21
The Orange sprint out to a hot start again, up 20-7 at the half, but then after taking their foot off the gas, it's a desperate struggle to keep this one in hand toward the end. Ryan Nassib takes seven sacks, while UNC QB Bryn Renner throws for 394 yards and three touchdowns against the SU secondary. Still, a win's a win, and Syracuse now has seven of them on the year. (7-4) (4-3)
Game 12: #24 Virginia 31, Syracuse 29
Leading with a minute to go, it looked as if Syracuse was about to wrap up their first division title as members of the ACC. But that would not be the case in Charlottesville. Michael Rocco overcome a rough day to pass for four first downs on the final drive, getting the Hoos in field goal range with just seconds remaining. Robert Randolph connected on the 23-yarder to win it shortly thereafter, giving UVa the Coastal title instead. (7-5) (4-4)
Belk Bowl: Syracuse 20, Louisville 17
It wasn't pretty, but Syracuse managed to outlast the Cardinals in a back-and-forth contest that only saw six points scored after halftime. Antwon Bailey led the way for SU, with 134 rushing yards and two scores. The defense also came up big, with Phillip Thomas picking off Teddy Bridgewater twice -- including the final 50-yard heave into the end zone to close out the contest. More Gatorade and bologna sandwiches for everyone! (8-5) (4-4)
Updated ACC Football Standings, 2011
1. Clemson (10-4) (6-2)
2. Wake Forest (6-7) (5-3)
3. Florida State (9-4) (5-3)
4. NC State (8-5) (4-4)
5. Boston College (4-8) (3-5)
6. Maryland (2-10) (1-7)
1. Virginia (9-5) (6-2)
2. Georgia Tech (8-5) (5-3)
3. Syracuse (8-5) (4-4)
4. Miami (7-5) (4-4)
5. North Carolina (7-6) (3-5)
6. Duke (4-8) (2-6)
Sure, we erased the thrilling Friday night win over West Virginia from our memories, but at the same time, we ended up getting yet another eight-win bowl season on the Orange's resume, their third straight year making the postseason. In total, Doug Marrone's 22-17 as head coach at SU, and was this close to playing his way into a conference championship game in 2011. I'd say I much prefer this alternate timeline to what actually happened in 2011, as Syracuse now looks like a team on the rise heading to 2012, instead of a team looking to bounce back from a bad year.
Next Up: Can the Orange replicate a real-life 34-3 season in which they made it to the Elite 8 (or better yet, surpass those accomplishments)? We'll find out next week when we simulate the 2011-12 Syracuse basketball season.