It's been known for a while but now that the 2013 ACC football schedule is out, Syracuse leaving the Big East just seems more official. And I don't care how long we've known about the move, it's still weird to see Syracuse's logo included with the ACC banner. A new era, a new home I guess.
Still, in a lot of ways it looks like more of the same, doesn't it? Checking over the schedule I keep thinking of one question. Actually, it's probably the oldest debate out there; which team will be Syracuse's rival? We've all asked it, we've all debated it, and really, no one's been able to truly answer that decades old question, conference or no conference alignment.
Of course the bigger question with SU football may be: how does a small private school in the middle-of-nowhere Central New York have a football program remain relevant for so long? Tradition is everything for Syracuse football -- without Jim Brown or Ernie Davis the Orange would have likely been lining up against Holy Cross in the Patriot League decades ago. But thankfully for SU fans, their football program has produced some of the biggest names in football history, and it routinely produces quality NFL players despite the school's small stature -- and years of futility, too.
Chugging along, taking dips, but eventually smoothing itself out. That's the course of Syracuse football, and through it all, I've wondered, which team is its true rival. There's never been a Georgetown, a Connecticut like in basketball, or a Johns Hopkins, or Virginia like in lacrosse. Basketball and lacrosse have always known how to gauge themselves based on built-in rivalries. For hoops, beating the Hoyas and the Huskies usually equaled a good year. Similar for lacrosse with the Blue Jays and Cavaliers. An identity in many ways.
Football, though, has always been different. Some have said Penn State is Enemy No. 1 before the Big East side of football popped up. Others went with Miami post-1991. There's even been a push for West Virginia or, ug, Boston College to be Syracuse's chief rival in football.
But Penn State dropped Syracuse once the Orangemen started winning -- with their recent play feeling less nostalgic and more just out of place. Miami never considered Syracuse a rival mainly for two reasons 1) The U was too big for anyone to be its rival and 2) SU was too often a doormat for the Hurricanes prison-issued shoelace-less shoes. And while West Virginia or Boston College did seem to make more sense logically, neither team really was a huge thorn in Otto's...hand(?). Plus, those teams have all been replaced by the likes of Cincinnati and South Florida. Syracuse was there when Big East football formed in '91 but in many ways the program has remained an independent -- always being a little too far away, a little too unknown.
And now comes more turnover. Yes, Boston College is actually back on the schedule. Pittsburgh remains too, having jumped off the same sinking boat as Syracuse. But Orange fans will also have to get used to Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. Tigers, Seminoles, and Yellow Jackets. Which brings me back to the rival question: will a team finally fit that role going forward? Without yet playing a game in the ACC, it just doesn't seem likely.
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad SU left the Big East while it still could (poor, poor Connecticut), and I'm actually really excited for the ACC journey, on an all sports fronts. Syracuse is in a much better spot having made the move, no question about that. But the schedule for next season, and for seasons to come, like always, still doesn't seem to include that long lost rival. Maybe Dabo Swinney will try to close the Dome this season. Or maybe Jimbo Fisher will someday taunt the Orange crowd after getting thrown out. Or Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech or North Carolina will rise up and give SU heart-stopping games year after year until the series becomes something special. It could simply be repetition will breed contempt for either Pittsburgh or Boston College.
Maybe, maybe not. Which isn't the ACC's fault, of course. It's a conference trying to stay alive by any means necessary. It needed a lifeboat, and, lucky for all, so too did Syracuse. Creating a rival for the Orange isn't top priority -- although the ACC is at least trying to create that in some fashion with scheduling Pittsburgh and Boston College. Lining up with the ACC is more about the small private school program staying relevant than about finding a rival.
A forever battle, even as conferences apparently come and go. Still the lack of a rival seems just as constant. Orange football may officially have a new house now, relevancy still in hand, but the new place may never really feel like home -- just more of the same.