You know how a lot of sentences around here lately seem to start with “the last time Syracuse...” These proclamations about how the last time the Syracuse Orange football program did something noteworthy was ____ years ago pop up frequently. And they typically end with something about the 2001 season.
As in, the last time SU was ranked in the top 25 was in ‘01. And like how the last the program had six wins in conference play was in 2001. The last time a season had meaning for a sustained period of time was in... ’01.
Sure, Syracuse has gone to and won three post season games this past decade. There’s also a lot of reminiscing about Donovan McNabb and 1998 (for good reason). But that SU team from 17 years ago, which included the famous Dwight Freeney, a one-man wrecking machine on defense and running back James Mungro, was probably the last real high-water mark for Syracuse football.
In 2001, Syracuse played in major games and attracted major attention. It was on a high trajectory. And then it was involved in probably the biggest game Syracuse had played in a few years.
Ah yes, November 17, 2001. It held great promise for Paul Pasqualoni’s team. Syracuse, winners of eight straight, was ranked No. 14 in the country and was in for a nationally-televised showdown with the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes down there in Florida. In their previous two games, Freeney, RJ Anderson, PJ Alexander, Kyle Johnson and company had taken out No. 5 Virginia Tech on the road and had bested rival West Virginia in the Dome.
Then undefeated Miami beat the brakes off the Orangemen. I mean, if you somehow weren’t around for it, or if you’ve blacked it out from your memory, the Hurricanes won 59-0, and it wasn’t even that close. The Canes’ Ken Dorsey threw for 224 yards and four TDs on just 20 passing attempts. Twenty! Conversely, SU’s signal caller, Anderson, threw for 66 total yards — under four yards per attempt. Troy Nunes (::genuflects::) also got a little PT in that disaster.
One of the other lasting memories from that dark day in the Sunshine State was how Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator George DeLeone attempted a heavy amount of a trickeration. Prior to just about every snap on offense, the Orange linemen were moving spots like it was some kind of strange game of musical chairs. It was misdirection or sneaky movement or something. What ever it was, it didn’t work. That’s the easy way to state it, as Syracuse accumulated only 185 total yards against that unbelievable Miami team.
Gimmick plays met a bulldozer in orange and green.
For all the trivia answers that the ‘01 team has collectively become, there aren’t too many mentions of that mid-November trip to South Florida.
Now, it should be pointed out that those Hurricanes were one of the best. Hell, maybe one of the best ever. Think about who Larry Coker had at his disposal: Dorsey, Ed Reed, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, and Jonathan Vilma and plenty more future pros.
You get it. The U had a legendary team. And it kicked Syracuse’s ass in a big way. And then SU moved on.
It’s something the current 2018 Orange (8-3, 5-2) can relate to and even emulate.
This Syracuse team just got waxed by undefeated Notre Dame, which is almost certainly on its way to the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame in 2018 is not Miami from 2001. However, Ian Book and Dexter Williams and the rest of the Fighting Irish are worthy of their ranking and of potentially getting a shot at No. 1 Alabama. They’re that good.
So what’s that all say about this particular season?
Well, for one, any loss, good, bad, or ugly, doesn’t need to linger long. A deflating defeat in The Game of the Week isn’t the end of the world. Further, and in a funny coincidence, that ‘01 team followed up the blow-out loss at Miami by playing Boston College.
Some 45,000-plus packed into the Dome back then (a hotter-than-usual late November Saturday night) to send the seniors off with a big win against the nationally-ranked Eagles. Syracuse obliged by shaking off the previous week’s humiliation, getting the “W,” 39-28. That victory kept the Orangemen in the top 25, set up the trip to Arizona to take on No. 18 Kansas State and made the season memorable.
This weekend presents a very similar opponent and opportunity for Syracuse as was the case 17 years ago.
On Saturday in Chestnut Hill, the Orange won’t be playing in the Dome, but it will need to A) defeat a talented enough Boston College team and B) right the ship quickly following a widely-viewed disaster. Taking down the Eagles will also secure Syracuse’s spot in the final regular season polls and send it off to whatever bowl destination (probably Orlando or the Bronx) in style. It’s the same roadmap they used back in 2001.
There are differences, of course, between the two separate seasons too. Those Orangemen of Coach Pasqualoni weren’t attempting to crawl out of the abyss the way these Orange men are in ‘18. Syracuse hasn’t received a bowl invitation in five years and has had three head coaches since 2012. While Coach P is often criticized for letting the program go stale, he did take SU bowling six times between 1995 and 2001.
Dino Babers, meanwhile, does have Syracuse pulling away from the dark and pointed toward the light of day again. Think about this: The Orange are ranked inside the top 20 despite being crushed by 33 points a few days ago. It was expected that SU would remained ranked, but it is also still pretty amazing how far they’ve come. It’s clear things are pretty good on the gridiron in Central New York. There’s a “special” vibe going on.
That could change or at least be slightly altered if Syracuse doesn’t bounce back Saturday. Should it win, though, then the Notre Dame game in the Bronx falls in line with the ‘01 Miami game. As in both happened, but both did not define the respective seasons.
That result against the Irish, for as miserable as it was, won’t be the reason keeping Syracuse from beating Boston College, from moving forward with all the momentum possible. Syracuse isn’t on Notre Dame’s level right now, just like no one was near Miami’s some 17 years back.
The previous game, no matter what the scoreboard showed, doesn’t have to preclude Syracuse from finishing out a regular season in style. It’s been done before around here; moving onward after being taken to the woodshed in a marquee match-up. Which is funny, because for all of the nostalgic talk recently, the most telling trivia-like legacy of Syracuse football 2001 might be the one least discussed.