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 Werner'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 Werner'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.
Game 1: Syracuse 37, Buffalo 17
This is a real result, from the "golden days" when we could still smoke the Bulls by 20-plus. (1-0) (0-0)
Game 2: Syracuse 23, Duke 14
Syracuse grabs their first ACC win during the first conference game, outlasting the Blue Devils in a game in which all the scoring happened in the first half. The star of this one would end up being running back Damien Rhodes, who'd score all three touchdowns for the Orange, while racking 178 yards from scrimmage. (2-0) (1-0)
Game 3: Syracuse 30, NC State 27
An up-and-down game results in another big ACC win for the Orange, running their in-conference record to 2-0. Just like last time, it was the running game that truly led the way, as Walter Reyes and Damien Rhodes combined for 301 yards and two scores on the ground. The Orange also recorded two interceptions on the game, attributed to Diamond Ferri and Steve Gregory, respectively. (3-0) (2-0)
Game 4: Syracuse 19, Cincinnati 7
In real life, Syracuse was still in the Big East during this game, and Cincinnati was playing out the string in C-USA. Here, it's a major conference team doing exactly what they should do against a non-AQ opponent. (4-0) (2-0)
Game 5: Florida State 17, Syracuse 13
Syracuse actually had several ACC teams on its schedule in 2004, and since this was actually a close game with the Seminoles, we'll leave it on there (giving the Orange nine in-conference games, with only eight of which counting toward the league championship standings). League loss or not, still a downer to see the team's first loss of the season. (4-1) (2-0)
Game 6: Syracuse 23, Wake Forest 3
More dominating play from SU in their first official ACC road game (I know, odd that happened so late in the season). Once again, it was the Damien Rhodes show, as he managed 144 yards on just 20 carries, while tacking on two touchdowns. Diamond Ferri and Kelvin Smith also picked off passes as part of a strong defensive effort by Syracuse, who held the Deacons to a 33-percent conversion rate (5-of-15) on third down. (5-1) (3-0)
Game 7: Georgia Tech 37, Syracuse 17
Perry Patterson struggled mightily in this one, completing just 13-of-32 passes, while being sacked five times and intercepted once. On defense, Syracuse really had a tough time stopping Tech's running game behind PJ Daniels, who simply had his way with the Orange front-four. After compiling 155 yards and three scores against SU, it's no wonder Daniels led his team to a big ACC win. While not as ugly as the bowl game these two would play in real life, it's not pretty. (5-2) (3-1)
Game 8: North Carolina 27, Syracuse 19
Syracuse continued to have a hard time on the road in their new conference, losing their second straight away from the Carrier Dome. The keys to this one? Two big interceptions by Perry Patterson, and a huge day from UNC running back Chad Scott, who had 219 total yards and two touchdowns. Suddenly, SU's year is looking rough. (5-3) (3-2)
Game 9: Syracuse 27, Maryland 10
Returning to the cozy confines of the Dome, the Orange clinch bowl eligibility in front of their home fans in dominating fashion over the Terps. Perry Patterson, after struggling in his previous two contests, throws three touchdown passes and it's Damien Rhodes and Diamond Ferri that help put this one away in the end. (6-3) (4-2)
Game 10: Virginia 31, Syracuse 10
UVA beat Syracuse in real life, but because they also faced the Hokies that year, this result will count toward the Orange's conference record. After SU's big win over Maryland, this one's a bit of a letdown, and it also officially eliminates them from contention for the ACC title. The fact that they're in the conversation this late in the season is a great sign, however. (6-4) (4-3)
Game 11: Miami 34, Syracuse 17
It might look like Syracuse was embarrassed here, but they actually held tight with the 'Canes until the fourth quarter here. Ultimately, Frank Gore and his 170 rushing yards were just two much for the SU defense, who applied plenty of pressure, but couldn't stop the run. Perry Patterson also managed to be his typically average self, tallying 170 yards on 50-percent passing with one TD and one INT. (6-5) (4-4)
Champ Sports Bowl: West Virginia 24, Syracuse 22
What better way to end a season than with a game against West Virginia? Following a reshuffling of the final standings for the Big East and ACC based on our alternate timeline, we conveniently end up back in the Champ Sports Bowl anyway, except this time SU faces off with an old nemesis in WVU. It may look like a typically close game between the rivals, but much of this one was a frenzied comeback effort by the Orange. After getting to within two points with just 1:29 left on the clock, Perry Patterson could not complete the two-point conversion attempt to Joseph Kowalewski, and that would be the game's final margin. (6-6) (4-4)
ACC Football Standings, 2004
1. Florida State (9-3) (6-2)
2. North Carolina (7-5) (6-2)
3. Miami (9-3) (5-3)
4. Virginia (8-4) (5-3)
5. Georgia Tech (8-4) (5-3)
6. Syracuse (6-6) (4-4)
7. Clemson (6-5) (4-4)
8. Maryland (5-6) (3-5)
9. NC State (4-7) (2-6)
10. Wake Forest (4-7) (1-7)
11. Duke (2-9) (1-7)
So in season one of ACC play, the state of the Syracuse football program looks awfully similar to what occurred in real life. A .500 finish for Paul Pasqualoni still removes him from his position, and still leads to the hiring of
Greg Gerg Robinson.
But what about our first basketball season under the ACC banner? Check back next week to find out what happens.
John Cassillo authors Atlantic Coast Convos, which chronicles every aspect of ACC (plus Syracuse & Pittsburgh) football. Check out the blog, and follow him on Twitter: @JohnCassillo