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The Ten Best Syracuse Football Games Of The Aughts

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This one was actually harder than trying to figure out the ten worst games.  Not so much because I couldn't find enough good wins, which believe it or not, I did.  It was trying to rank them that made it so difficult.  So many wins meant different things.  Some were just amazing games.  Others changed the entire SU season.  Others still effected college football as a whole.  I'm gonna go ahead and say that even I'm not sure about the rankings as I write this so feel free to chime in with your own top list in the comments.  Somewhere in the middle, we'll figure it out.

Honorable Mention

Syracuse 26, Kansas State 3 (2001)
Syracuse's last (and only) bowl victory of the 2000's was all about James Mungro.  Mungro wrapped up his career with 112 yards and three touchdowns in the Bowl, passing Larry Csonka for second place on Syracuse's career rushing list with 2,981 yards. 

Syracuse 40, Wyoming 34 2OT (2006)
The Orange might not have expected to get a game out of the Cowboys but they got all they could handle in the Dome.  The Cowboys tied the game up with fifteen seconds remaining and sent it into overtime. A back-and-forth contest all day that featured 17 penalties, the Syracuse defense got it together in the 2nd OT and Jameel McClain stopped RB Joseph Harris on a fourth-and-1 from the 5.  That led to a 15-yard Delone Carter TD to give the Orange the victory.

Syracuse 31, Buffalo 0 (2005)
Hey, when you go 1-10, you better appreciate that 1.

Auburn 37, Syracuse 34 2OT (2002)
SU fell short in this one, but any time a Syracuse quarterback puts on a performance in a game that later becomes the basis for a Syracuse sports blog, that game must be documented and appreciated.

Syracuse 22, Virginia Tech 14 (2001)
Virginia Tech entered the game No. 5 in the nation.  They would not leave as such.  Jamel Riddle's 51- yard punt return for a touchdown on the fourth play of the game set the tone as the Orange jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead.  The Hokies rallied in the 2nd half, cutting the lead to 20-14.  Thanks to an SU punt that set the Hokies insider their own ten, the defense forced a safety, killing VT's momentum and ending the comeback.  It was SU's first win in Blackburg since 1987and their first road win over a ranked team since 1998.

No. 10 - Syracuse 49, North Carolina 47 3OT (2003)

Syracuse trailed the entire game until :27 left in the fourth when Collin Barbar's FG made it 34-34. Syracuse got the ball first in overtime and scored on Water Reyes' five-yard TD run. North Carolina tied it on Darian Durant's four-yard TD run.  In the 2nd overtime, Syracuse had an easy chance to win.  UNC had failed to score on their drive and Barber lined up for a 27-yard FG...missing wide left.  In the 3rd OT, Walter Reyes took the first hand-off and scampered 25 yards for the TD.  Since SU had to go for two, they did and they converted.  North Carolina scored on the ensuing drive, setting up a game-tying conversion of their own.  Dan Orner's conversion pass failed and the Orange escaped Chapel Hill with a thrilling season-opening victory. Reyes finished with 191 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 carries.

No. 9 - Syracuse 38, Pitt 31 2OT (2004)

The Orange were trying to keep hopes alive for their first bowl game in three years, Pitt was trying to maintain their place among the Big East leaders. SU led 21-13 at the half but Pitt stormed back ahead for a 24-21 lead late.  Collin Barber kicked a 27-yard field goal with 71 seconds left in regulation to send the game into OT.  In the first overtime, Tyler Palko hit Joe DelSardo with a 9-yard scoring pass for Pitt, but Perry Patterson tied it for Syracuse on a 3-yard run. With starter Walter Reyes out, Damien Rhodes ran the ball six times in seven plays and set up the Orange TD.  On Pitt's possession, linebacker Kellen Pruitt and safety Diamond Ferri stopped RB Raymond Kirkley for no gain on fourth down to preserve the win.

No. 8 - Syracuse 31, West Virginia 27 (2000)

I'll let a West Virginia fan who put this loss in his Top 10 WVU Football Games I Will Never Watch Again explain...

We had it in the bag. 27-24 lead AND the ball. Scott McBrien throws a costly interception with less than 3 minutes to go, Syracuse drives all the way down the field and scores the winning TD with 10 seconds left. I broke my stadium seat afterwards. To top the evening's festivities off perfectly, Coach Nehlen announces his retirement after the game. Not a good day in Touchdown City. 31-27 Syracuse

Anytime you can win the Schwartzwalder Trophy on a late score AND cause your rivals' longtime head coach to retire, that's a good win.

No. 7 - Syracuse 38, Notre Dame 12 (2003)

There was really nothing at stake for the 5-6 Orange when they took on the 5-6 Irish in the final game of 2003.  Even though a sixth win would have made them bowl eligible, they were not expected to go to one.  The Irish however would have most certainly gone to a bowl game with the victory.  A win for the Irish also would have strengthened the S.O.S. for USC, who was locked in a three-team battle with LSU and Oklahoma for a top spot in the BCS.  In front of a national audience, the Orange shut down RB Julius Jones and dominated the heavily-favored Irish from start to finish.  The SU win guaranteed Notre Dame's third losing season in five years, might have very well saved Paul Pasqualoni's job and influenced the way the national title picture played out.

No. 6 - Syracuse 37, Northwestern 34 (2009)

The Doug Marrone Era was moving in the right direction two games into its inaugural season.  Thanks to a close loss to Minnesota and a well-played game against a superior Penn State, it was evident that the Orange were improved.  But they lacked that one thing that they could point to as tangible evidence of improvement...a win.  That changed when the Northwestern Wildcats came to town. Having defeated the Orange a year earlier, there was little reason to think they couldn't do it again.  But this wasn't the same SU team and they proved it right away, jumping out to a 17-0 first quarter lead.  The Wildcats responded however and the Orange lead evaporated to 24-21 at the half.  Back and forth the two teams went in the 2nd half, trading leads and scores.  Finally, the Orange had the ball with seconds remaining and the score tied 34-34.  Walk-on freshman Ryan Lichtenstein walked on to the field to attempt a 41-yard FG as time expired.  He did not disappoint:

The Orange won the game and instilled within themselves and their fanbase proof that the Doug Marrone Era would be so much better than the one that preceded it.

No. 5 - Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23 (2008)

Once again with nothing on the line, the 19.5-point underdog Orange stepped up to play a Notre Dame team desperately in need of a victory.  And once again, Syracuse stepped up to the challenge.  Perhaps in tribute to lame duck coach Greg Robinson, the Orange played their best game of the season.  Led by Cam Dantley, son of Notre Dame great Adrian Dantley, the offense rallied from a 23-10 deficit in the 4th quarter.  SU fans were officially introduced to RB Antwon Bailey who ripped off 126 yards and a TD while Arthur Jones anchored the defense with 15 tackles.  Note Dame had a chance to win the game as time expired but Brandon Walker's 53-yard kick fell short and the Orange once again upset the Irish on national television.

No. 4 - Syracuse 31, Rutgers 13 (2009)

It wasn't that long ago that a 31-13 win over Rutgers would have been commonplace.  In fact, that might have been considered a close game between the two before the mid-2000's, when Rutgers wrested control of the series and tri-state area recruiting from the Orange for the first time.  So it was with particular delight that the Orange dominated the Scarlet Knights for the first time in a long time.  The win didn't do much for the Orange in the short-term but the long-term effects could be enormous.  Much in the same way Rutgers used wins over SU to catapult their position in the Northeastern recruiting war, this win could have a similar effect in reversing that trend.  One also gets the distinct feeling that a strong rivalry between the two programs may have just begun.

No. 3 - Syracuse 43, Boston College 17 (2004)

It's odd to see a blowout win among the best wins of the decade when so many of them came in overtime on at the last-second.  But it's hard to argue that Syracuse's depantsing of BC in 2004 was one of the most satisfying wins in SU history. 

The Eagles were about to leave the Big East, but not before winning the out-right conference crown.  All that stood between them and the BCS bid was a 5-6 Syracuse squad.  Damien Rhodes scampered for a 69-yard TD but the hero of the day was Diamond Ferri.  Due to injuries, Ferri played not only his usual safety spot but also returned kicked and rushed on offense. The result?  He rushed 28 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned an interception for a score in the fourth quarter to seal the 43-17 victory.  With the win, SU ruined Boston College's chances of a BCS bid or outright Big East title all while gaining a share of the conference crown and becoming bowl eligible themselves.

No. 2 - Syracuse 37, Louisville 34 (2007)

36.5 points.  That's how much Louisville was favored by when the lowly Orange came to Papa Johns Stadium that day.  So you can imagine it was a bit of a shock when SU QB Andrew Robinson hit Taj Smith for a 79-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.  It set the tone for one of the most shocking first half performances in SU history.  The Orange led throughout behind Robinson, who threw for a career-high 423 yards and tied a school record with four touchdowns.  Louisville began to chip back into the lead in the second half, thanks to two SU turnovers.  The comeback fell short and the Orange made national headlines with the upset.  For a brief moment, the Big East bottom-dweller was a real football program again. 

No. 1 - Syracuse 50, Virginia Tech 42 3OT (2002)

Coming off their upset of the highly-ranked Hokies the year prior, it was too much to ask of the Orange to do it again.  But in a game that featured 1,163 yards of total offense, including 907 yards passing, Syracuse did it anyway. 

VT jumped out to an early 14-3 lead but the Orange chipped away and kept the rest of the game close.  The fourth quarter featured 27 points, a lead change and two ties  With the score tied 35-35, Virginia Tech missed a game-winning FG late and the Orange took a knee into overtime. 

In the first OT period, neither team was able to score.  VT missed another FG and Troy Nunes was intercepted in the endzone.  In the second OT, VT got on the board first but Nunes recovered to throw a TD pass, sending the game into a third OT.  In it, Damien Rhodes scored the go-ahead TD and mandatory 2-point conversion.  Syracuse safety Maurice McClain intercepted a Bryan Randall pass in the endzone, clinching the win for the Orange in front of the home crowd, which stormed the field afterward.