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Virginia Tech, Syracuse’s once and never again rival

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For a brief time, the Orange and Hokies were rivals. Even though we’re conference-mates once more, we’ll never be again

Troy Nunes throws the ball

Virginia Tech joined the Big East Conference as a football member starting with the 1992 season until they left in 2003. In that time, Syracuse and VT would battle to a 6-6 stalemate as conference foes (SU leads the all-time series 9-8).

From the get-go, the two schools settled into a predictable pattern. Syracuse would win the games played in the Syracuse. Virginia Tech would win the games played in Blacksburg. That’s how it went every single time except for a weird universe breakdown in 2000-2001 when the Hokies finally won in the Carrier Dome and the Orange(men) finally won in Lane Stadium. They made sure to course-correct the natural order of things for two seasons before the Hokies left for the ACC.

I know a lot of people think Michael Vick invented Virginia Tech football but they forget that the Hokies actually had a damn good program before he got there. They won the Big East in 1995 and 1996, going to the Sugar and Orange Bowls in the process. This coincided with Syracuse’s rise back to the top of the conference thanks to Marvin Harrison, Donovan McNabb, et al. Both schools were finishing at or near the top of the league and games between the two became hugely important.

This all culminated in 1998 when the No. 16 Hokies came to the Dome with the Big East title on the line. 49,336 packed the stadium to see McNabb hit Stephen Brominski in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as time expired, setting off what we hoped would be the first in many battles between the two schools for the conference crown.

Then, a couple things happened. Michael Vick chose VT over Syracuse. The SU program fell off. And Miami remembered it was Miami.

While the rivalry would continue to be a mostly back-and-forth affair, national fans are likely to remember two games from what came next. 1999’s 62-0 murder-death-kill-fest in Blacksburg and the 51-7 shellacking that occurred in the final meeting between the two. Shame, cause there’s a pretty fantastic 50-42 Syracuse triple overtime win nestled in there as well.

Then, the Hokies were gone, taking Syracuse’s place in the initial three-team jump to the ACC. For SU it was a decade of placeholding as the Orange would eventually join the ACC in 2013.

Now in our fourth season in the league, Syracuse and Virginia Tech are just getting around to playing one another for the first time this weekend. After this, the two teams won’t play again until 2021. There is no future date set beyond that (the ACC has scheduling pairs set through 2024). That means between 2013 and 2024, the two schools who share a conference might as well be playing on opposite sides of the country. Unless magic happens and they meet in the ACC Championship, somehow, the Orange and Hokies are rivals in name only.

It’s one of the downsides to the eight-game conference schedule that there are certain schools SU will not play very often (others being Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia, UNC, and Duke). That’s not enough of a reason to change the entire system but it’s still a shame because whatever happens this weekend won’t really have a chance to saturate and become something bigger. Virginia Tech might as well be another non-conference team on our schedule, no different than Central Michigan (whom we will have played three times since joining the conference by the time we play VT twice).

Hoping that SU and VT can blossom back into the rivalry it once was is pretty much impossible. But Orange fans can hope that, at the very least, the “home team wins” trend continues. At least it’d be something.