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Syracuse Football: Did the 1959 Team Have a "Perfect" Offense?

A quick look at yet another interesting thing from Bill Connelly.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation's Bill Connelly is currently planning a book about the 50 Best* Teams of All-Time. You should take a look at the project's Kickstarter (see the preceding link) to dig into a bit more of the squads that will be included and the basis by which Bill uses the term "best." It's a cool project that you'll enjoy reading as a college football fan, but even more so if you're a Syracuse Orange(men) football fan. The 1959 SU National Championship team is included among the featured teams.

Talking about the book a bit on SB Nation's College Football hub, Bill detailed 23 offenses that he deemed most "perfect." That is, which teams managed to rank high enough in his estimated S&P+ to be considered perfect -- scoring 100 by way of rounding up to the nearest decimal point. If you regularly read Bill, the basic concepts here shouldn't be too foreign.

ANYWAY: One of those 23 offenses to score 100 (or nearly 100) was the 1959 Syracuse Orangemen title team, which Bill details at length:

"Ben Schwartzwalder's Orangemen were in the middle of a nice run -- they finished in the top 10 in both 1956 and 1958 and would go 15-5 in 1960-61 as well -- but 1959 was the pinnacle. Despite a schedule that featured eight of 11 teams finishing .500 or better, Syracuse was steady and phenomenal. The Orange beat Navy, 32-6, then took down Holy Cross and WVU by a combined 86-6. They took on eastern powers Pitt and Penn State back-to-back, both on the road, and scored a combined 55 points in two wins. They emasculated Colgate and Boston University by a combined 117-0. And to finish the regular season, they headed west to UCLA and won, 36-8.

Despite tension and (if you believe the telling in The Express) iffy officiating, The 'Cuse finished the season by putting 23 points on a Texas defense that had allowed just seven points per game to that point.

Sophomore (and future Heisman winner) Ernie Davis was the star of the offense with 686 yards (7 per carry), but Syracuse was powered by remarkable balance. Three players rushed for at least 500 yards, seven more rushed for at least 115 and five finished with at least 100 receiving yards. This offense could do everything and ended up with a national title ring."

Watching The Express, or taking a quick trip on the Google machine, you probably knew the scores and dominance with which SU operated that season. But what you might not have known was the impressive collection of individual statistics Bill lays out there. Like he said, the balance was everything for that exciting, steamrolling SU squad.

Despite having Ernie Davis on the roster, two other players would rack up 500 or more rushing yards. The fact that seven MORE hit 115 or higher is even more astounding. For additional reference, just five players managed that on last year's team, despite one more game and a completely different style and tempo of play. Six players had 100 or more receiving yards on SU's 2015 team in what's become a pass-happy sport. Just one less (five) did it in 1959. That team had 21 passing touchdowns playing a game still largely confined to the ground. In 2015, the Orange had 19 passing scores...

No wonder Bill calls them perfect. The numbers (yes, despite comparing them to SU's recent offensive woes) seemed to defy the era's norms.


In his book, Bill will be getting into much, much more about why the 1959 Orangemen team was so special. This is obviously just a sampling of that conclusion. But looking at those numbers above and thinking about how they stack up to today's (pretty well, actually), you can't help yourself from being amazed -- even 50-plus years later. Perhaps we'll talk about Dino Babers's offense like this one day too. We can dream, right?