Syracuse Orange football is off to its first 3-0 start since 2015. That’s not a very long time, but before that, it had been 24 years (as Scott Shafer was once happy to remind us all) since the last time it happened.
Keeping that rarity in mind, we wanted to look back at some of the more “recent” 3-0 starts in Orange history, and get a feel for how those seasons turned out:
Wins: Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Central Michigan
Final result: 4-8
Terrel Hunt was lost early in game one against URI, giving birth to the Eric Dungey era of SU football. The rest, as you know, has been history. But in between then and now, Dungey inspired some late-game heroics against Wake and also suffered a concussion against CMU which ultimately started the persistent questions around his health. He’d still play in more games that season. However, the team fell apart and wouldn’t win again until the finale.
Wins: Vanderbilt, at Maryland, Florida
Final result: 10-2, Hall of Fame Bowl
Going back a ways, we see a very different Syracuse program still in its heyday. Syracuse smoked Vandy, then got by Maryland on the road (a 31-17 win), before trouncing No. 5 Florida at the Carrier Dome. Famously, it scared the Gators from leaving the state again during non-conference play. Paul Pasqualoni’s first Orangemen team would start 4-0, but lose the next two. They wouldn’t lose again, though.
Wins: Maryland, at Rutgers, Miami (OH)
Final result: 11-0-1, Sugar Bowl
You know the story of this magical season. SU dominated as an Eastern independent, and wasn’t necessarily tested until the regular season finale against West Virginia (a thrilling 32-31 win). If not for Pat Dye being a coward, this Orangemen team could’ve easily finished 12-0 with a share of the national championship (we might have one anyway). Don McPherson was also robbed of the Heisman Trophy.
Wins: Villanova, Iowa, at Tulane
Final result: 6-5
Against a schedule largely indicative of the time, Syracuse squeaked by early opponents Villanova and Iowa, then scored a double-digit victory over Tulane. The Orangemen would proceed to drop the next three, before rallying to win three of the next four to hit the six-win mark. Without as many bowls back then, there was no postseason. But they did manage victories over teams like Virginia, West Virginia and Boston College. That was good enough some years.
Wins: Baylor, West Virginia, at Maryland
Final result: 8-2
SU wasn’t necessarily impressive early on, but scored quality wins in the above games, and also played Navy and Penn State (the lone losses on the year) fairly close. Otherwise, 8-2 is a nice finish — it just didn’t feature a bowl game given how few there were at the time. Syracuse did beat the lone ranked team on their schedule, No. 4 UCLA, by 18 though. Larry Csonka also accounted for over 1,100 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Wins: Boston U., at Kansas, at Holy Cross
Final result: 7-2
Back then, a top-20 team didn’t necessarily make a bowl game. But it was a great Orangemen squad that lost two games by a combined 13 points and beat both Penn State and Kansas on the year. As you might have figured, Ernie Davis led the way with over 1,000 total yards and 10 scores. SU even spent some time ranked No. 1 just a year after their national title run.
Wins: Kansas, Maryland, at Navy
Final result: 11-0, Cotton Bowl (national champs)
Syracuse dominated its foes in 1959, shutting out five different teams and ultimately winning the national title after assuming the No. 1 spot in mid-November. Texas (Cotton Bowl) and Penn State were the only teams to get within single-digits of them all year. It’s impressive just how damn good this squad was, historically.
We don’t have to go into detail any further, though know Syracuse also went 3-0 in 1942, 1937-38, 1933-35, 1930-31 and 1918-28 if you trace things back a century. Some of those opponents were at least a little dubious. That’s fine — we were far from the only ones.
What this exercise really does is put into perspective just how rare such a start is for Orange(men) coaches over the course of our modern history. And though these past 3-0 seasons didn’t all end in bowl games for SU, all but one (2015) at least found more wins than losses. Adjusted for the current standard, that would certainly be enough for a bowl bid today.
Encouraged? Surprised? For those that were around for them, shed your own light on these past years too, if you’d like.