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Actual stakes make for rare intrigue in Syracuse vs. Boston College rivalry

If Syracuse wins, they’re probably headed to the Camping World Bowl.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC loves to force things, but we’ll give them credit where it’s due: pairing the Syracuse Orange and Boston College Eagles up on football field was not its worst idea.

Unlike the silly Atlantic/Coastal setup, forcing us to play Pitt in football each year, or forcing home-and-homes against the Eagles in hoops, SU and BC facing off on Thanksgiving weekend every year seemed like a smart idea. Syracuse football hasn’t had a true RIVAL in football in many years, and Boston College is the closet thing we have to that in the ACC. The Eagles are in the same boat, with a forced marriage to Virginia Tech (via the first Big East raid) being its best bet.

Up until this point, though, the game has rarely delivered much in the way of intrigue. That will certainly change this year with both teams already bowl-bound, potentially playing for a shot at a Camping World Bowl bid on ESPN.

For a season, we though these sort of matchups could be the norm. In 2013, the Orange entered the final weekend at 5-6, needing a win over 7-4 Boston College to make the postseason. The Orange would pull the upset — 34-31 — in dramatic fashion at the Carrier Dome, and a game between two nearby private schools just days after Thanksgiving had a chance to be something much more interesting each year.

And then it wasn’t.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

A 3-9 Syracuse team was stomped by the Eagles in 2014, in a game most notable for a fight. The 2015 game was a battle of three-win squads, ending with a (then) four-win Orange team carrying Scott Shafer off the field following an ugly 20-17 victory. We played in October in 2016. Half of Syracuse’s roster seemed to be injured last fall, and the 7-6 Eagles won 42-14.

You can see where the excitement drifts away pretty quickly...

The ACC made a smart decision by not forcing these teams (who don’t share a state and fail to have the strong alumni family crossover needed) to play on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. But the post-Thanksgiving placement still has the potential for a dud more often than not. At one point, these teams were annually sitting near the top of the Big East, but those days are gone. Instead, we’re left with one of a few different narratives now:

1. Both teams have losing records and no one cares (2015)

2. One team has a winning record, stomps the other and no one cares (2014, 2017)

3. There are stakes for one or both teams and it’s actually a good time (2013, 2018)

This time around is probably the best-case scenario for this rivalry, if we’re honest. Both teams have already clinched bowl eligibility, so those stakes are gone. But BC and Syracuse have each spent a few weeks in the top 25 this year, and the Orange are still there. If Syracuse wins, they’re 9-3 and almost certainly playing in the Camping World Bowl. A Boston College win probably doesn’t help them leapfrog NC State to head to Orlando... but it puts them in front of Syracuse and maybe Pitt when the tier 1 ACC games are making their selections.

Is this enough to spark something a bit more important going forward? I don’t think we’ll ever get these sort of stakes annually, to be honest. Maybe most years these teams can be around .500 should recent regime changes keep things moving in a positive direction for both. But a nationally-televised game this year guarantees nothing along the same lines going forward.

For now, let’s just enjoy what this season brings... and hope that maybe it’s a preview of more to come for this matchup.