I don't know, maybe it's because of all the off-field issues surrounding Penn State? Or maybe it's because the program still calls NCAA Purgatory home? Maybe it's because the game is being played in New Jersey?
For whatever the reason, something about Penn State. vs. Syracuse seems off. Which really could have to do with the last couple of times the two old rivals played. I mean, good Lord, 2008 was brutal. The visual evidence is just as bad as you remember:
That remains the only time in three decades of attending games at the Dome where I left early. And I just don't mean I took off in the fourth quarter. No, no, no, we left at HALFTIME.
Then, just a year later, Greg Paulus got in on the rivalry action. Which was...strange?
So maybe Penn St. taking on Syracuse isn't striking the right chord is because the rivalry isn't Don McPherson tearing up Joe Pa's secondary, it's not the national championship-caliber Penn State taking on upstart Syracuse. It's two teams going through a ton of change, two teams who haven't played in four years, with last couple of times they did line up against each other being completely forgettable.
Yet, there is no questioning how important this game is for Syracuse, no matter how strange the game may seem. Beat Penn State and Scott Shafer is likely looking at starting his head coaching career no worse than 3-1. And hell, if Syracuse can beat a still fairly decent PSU team, there's probably no reason to believe it can't beat Northwestern (although the Wildcats, returning a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, may just end up winning the Big 10).
A lot is always on the line in game one, every year, and Orange fans know the good and bad of it all.
Like in 2007, Greg Robinson was ready to unveil his real team, his players, things were different - Syracuse was going to beat Washington and get back to the winning ways of years gone by, and then this happened. Bad, bad, bad.
Or how about 1995? Unranked Syracuse, down on its luck at the time, goes to Chapel Hill, in prime time on ESPN, and Donovan McNabb introduced himself to Orange fans and the college football world. Sure Syracuse would go on to lose the following week at home - to East Carolina of all teams, very Pasqualoni - but game one of '95 changed that season.
Could Drew Allen or Terrel Hunt be the next McNabb? In Allen's case it'll just be one year, but still, you get the point: the first four quarters of the season can can set the next twelve games perfectly. Sure, the game out can be a clunker and Syracuse could still produce a solid season. just look at last season's heart-breaking loss to Northwestern. Syracuse rebounded, eventually, quick nicely. (Actually, losing the season debut - or even the Dome debut - seemed to be a rite of passage for Paul Pasqualoni in the 90's.)
But ultimately game one sets the tone, and we only have 29 days until the first official kickoff of 2013. Time that will, of course, fly by and yet practically stand still together. Nothing but time until we find out a lot of answers about this version of the Syracuse Orange. Which is probably just long enough for any strange feelings to wear off and for Penn St. vs. Syracuse to represent the most important feeling: football is back.