If you read about non-Syracuse sports on the internet, you may have seen Grantland's recurring feature around "Championship/Heavyweight Belts" for various topics. The basic idea: like a boxing (or wrestling) championship belt, the title of "best" anything can be determined every year, and at times held for many years at a time. While every entry may not be amazing, it's cool to see how these things change or stay the same.
Of course, this plays perfectly into Syracuse football and its seemingly endless search for a RIVAL (all caps). Go to Wikipedia, and there are separate entries for SU-Boston College, SU-West Virginia and SU-Penn State football rivalries. Right now, it's clear that rival is Boston College, even if it fails to match the intensity of another notable Orange sports rivalry. But what other teams have held the honor over time?
We run down the year-by-year, grouping consecutive years together so you don't have to read individual entries for 1899 (the first year Football Reference tracks) through 2014:
Syracuse Orange Rivalry Championship Belt
Losing 17-0 and 6-0, respectively, Syracuse didn't fare well in these first two rivalry games. But these contests against Cornell were obviously the highlight of the schedule for SU amid a collection of other New York schools of various size and stature. The schools' proximity to one another makes it the most important -- a fact that would link them in other sports for a century (even after the competitiveness faded away).
Two successful SU squads (a combined 14-4-1) managed to go unbeaten (though not untied) against downstate Columbia. While they faced more local schools in this stretch, Columbia and Army were really the only two major nearby programs on the slate. So, Columbia it is.
1903-1904: Syracuse not considered major program for this two-year stretch
With Cornell contending for national titles and Colgate becoming a more prominent player in college football, the stars aligned (briefly, first) for the Raiders and SU to be very close-by rivals. Over a century later, the teams do still play one another -- and will do so next season, actually.
Carlisle was once a power in college football (really, read about it), and for one season, it could be argued that the Indians' presence was the biggest rivalry game on Syracuse's schedule. They'd be back a few years later, before fading into college football's background.
HOODOO. The close rivalry got more heated during the 1908-1917 time frame as the two battled for Central New York supremacy every season but one (1911). And despite the imbalance between the programs later on, Syracuse went just 2-6-1 for this near-decade's worth of games, including losses in the first five.
Oh? Syracuse didn't play Colgate in 1918, and for two seasons they played Rutgers down in New York City. See, they were #BRAND-focused even then. You won't be seeing SUNJ again on this list...
This is the longest stretch for one Syracuse football rival holding the belt. The Raiders and Orangemen have never had a back-and-forth rivalry, rather just extended stretches of dominance for each (this should sound familiar with regard to another long-standing opponent we still play today). SU won the first four, then a brief one-and-one with some ties. Then the start of a 10-game losing streak that HOODOO is largely based upon.
Coach Ossie Solem's boys still played Colgate this season (in another loss), but the Maryland loss was the one that really stung the most for SU. Ranked in the top 20, the Orangemen were thought to be on to bigger and better things before facing the Terps, but instead, were shut out and plunged in the polls.
Again, the case could be made for Colgate again (so feel free), but the stakes were higher in the 1938 edition of the occasionally-played Big Red-Orangemen series than they were vs. 'Gate. That Ossie Solem... bringing SU to new heights.
After a couple years of uptick, Syracuse plunged back down to mediocrity, leaving the Colgate game as the top contest on the slate once again. The Orangemen were 1-1-1, including a 7-0 shutout in 1939 (a common score in this rivalry's history).
Jumping back into the polls, Syracuse's game against Cornell once again takes precedent.
1943: Most major colleges suspended football with World War II going on.
1944: Boston College
No stakes but Northeast pride, but that's fine for a Boston College game that would progressively become more important to SU on a year-to-year basis.
The last time period the rivalry was truly competitive between the two CNY programs. 'Gate was 4-3 against 'Cuse, and... that would include the former's last victory over SU in the history of the series (a close 19-14 triumph in 1950).
1952: Penn State
Ranked teams. Orange Bowl berth on the line. This one set the tone for what many thought PSU-SU could have and maybe... should have become in the succeeding decades.
The final appearance by Colgate on the list, these were also two of the last three (the other, in 1955) mildly competitive contests. HOODOO and the battle for CNY supremacy go into the night with just a whimper.
1955: West Virginia
As the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic started to gain some steam in football, battles between what would round out to be the old "Eastern Independents" were all intense and all featured some stakes. This meeting between SU and the Mountaineers was for greater regional supremacy.
1956: Penn State
Top-10 ranking on the line, the Orangemen eked out a four-point victory at home to solidify themselves as one of college football's top squads for the '56 season.
1957-58: West Virginia
Simply regional pride in the first game, but a top-10 ranking was at stake in the second for Syracuse. The Orange did not disappoint, going into Morgantown and beating WVU by three.
1959-1960: Penn State
Battles for regional dominance took a backseat to top-five rankings and for SU, a national championship, in this two-year period. The Orange won both meetings and ascended to the sport's peak all at once.
1962: Penn State
1964-1965: Boston College
A whole lot of hanging on to previous successes for Syracuse as they hit a bit of a rough patch by the end of the 1960s. Not a ton happens of note in these rotating rivalries with various Northeast and Mid-Atlantic programs, so we'll breeze through some time and just call out where it makes sense.
1966: Penn State
1967: Boston College
1968: West Virginia
1969: Boston College
1970-1971: West Virginia
1973: Boston College
1975: Boston College
1976: West Virginia
1978: Boston College
1979: West Virginia
1980: Boston College
1981: West Virginia
If you were curious how Syracuse ended up in this "who's our rival?" arrangement, take a look at the above. With all of the teams bouncing around between pretty good and not awful, it was hard to pinpoint where rivalry existed. But, certain games did stand out over others, which is how it alternates for over 15 years between regional programs that would all (save PSU) eventually end up in the Big East together.
1982-1984: Boston College
Syracuse is on its way back up, and en route, they played spoiler to Boston College (1983) and... lost two games on the ends. We'll circle back with the Eagles later.
1985-1988: West Virginia
This was actually a nice stretch for the WVU/SU series. The Mountaineers played spoiler to Syracuse in 1985, the two played for regional supremacy in 1986, and then the Orangemen pulled out a VERY close victory in 1987 to keep its unbeaten season alive and a earn a Sugar Bowl berth. 1988 was a matchup of top-15 squads, which WVU would win.
Despite playing every year for decades, this is the only collection of games in the history of this series that really stood out. Top-20 rankings were on the line in two of the games, and the other was a tie. This is one of the only times both teams were regular contenders, and... it showed glimpses of what could've been (and the ACC wishes was the case).
With a top five ranking and the Big East championship on the line, Syracuse fell to the mighty Hurricanes in a close 16-10 bout. This would become a theme for the majority of the decade, despite a fair share of blowouts in the timeframe as well.
1993: Boston College
A tight one that would help determine the Big East that season, this is one of a handful of BC-SU games that ended up being close AND had some real consequences.
Same deal as the 1992 game. For three straight seasons, Syracuse and Miami faced off with the Big East crown somewhat in the balance, along with varying levels of top rankings too. The big one: a 1994 matchup that had a top-five spot as a reward.
1997: Boston College
The third of four straight Syracuse wins in the series -- it put the Orange on track to once again contend for the Big East championship.
A blowout, sure. But there have been few victories with the excitement level and euphoria afterward that this 66-13 victory featured for the Orangemen. The Big East title and a top-20 ranking were in the balance again, and SU did not disappoint.You can doubt the "rivalry" in the Syracuse-Miami games if you want, but stakes every year, some good games amid plenty of bad and a shared conference all mean something, right?
1999-2002: Boston College
These programs ebbed and flowed in the same direction from 1999-2002, despite the Eagles' three wins in that time. Bowl eligibility was always a suplot, and all but one was a competitive, heated matchup.
One last time with the 'Canes. Syracuse was pressing hard for bowl eligibility and the Big East's meager throne that year, while Miami wanted to go out of the conference with a bang. UM pulled off a close victory as a jilted SU program had to lose and stick around the Big East for another near-decade (thanks, VA politics).
2004: Boston College
2005: West Virginia
2008: West Virginia
Eff all of these games and seasons... respectability was all that was at stake (even in Marrone's first season).
2010-2011: West Virginia
I WANT TO SWIM IN A POOL OF THESE WINS AND THE PINSTRIPE BOWL FOREVER.
Fake quotes attributed to cardboard cutouts? Upsetting a top-10 team? This nonsense leading to the Orange grabbing a share of the Big East title on the way out the door? Sounds like a rivalry game.
2013-14: Boston College
The renewal of BC-SU has already given us this majestic image, forever celebrated on the internet. And while last year's game failed to match the stakes of 2013, the venom was there (hi, sideline fight!). Expect the Eagles to top the list for the foreseeable future.
Not to draw this post out any longer, BUT: a final count of how many years each team received:
Boston College: 21
West Virginia: 17
Penn State: 6
... So there's your HOODOO, Colgate. Boston College easily slots into the second spot -- soon to be first -- and West Virginia is the forgotten third to many (except this blogger and some others around here).
Agree? Disagree? Mad that Clemson's not on there? Share your thoughts below.