Part of the reason the 2018 Camping World Bowl was so great as Syracuse Orange fan was because the program got knock off an old rival in West Virginia. It felt good to rekindle football rivalries as the ACC continues to feel more familiar but somehow less hostile, and the Mountaineers history with the Orange made the reminiscing easy.
While basketball certainly gets far more of the digital ink, this fanbase loves to spend time remembering the old Big East. Clashes against WVU, Rutgers, and UConn get fans nostalgic, even though Pitt, Louisville, Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech still regularly pop up on the schedule. And sure, those memories tend to leave out the football series with Cincinatti, South Florida, and Temple, but goddamnit we love some Big East memberberries.
Which is why Rutgers strolls into the Dome on Saturday with a head coach who’s entire current existence is based off remembering when he was good at Rutgers (not the ill-fated NFL run), the reminiscing is going to be dialed up to 11. With that comes comparisons to teams that won Big East titles, and a natural measuring stick to our northeastern brethren both on and off the field.
There will be plenty of talk about a 3-6 “revival” under Schiano that is most certainly improvement for a program that had only won 3 conference games from 2017-2019. A 61-14 opening week win won’t quiet any hype train, but Vegas only sees a 2 point differential between a Rutgers team on the rise and a Syracuse program most national media and some fans think is left for dead. These programs aren’t that far apart at the moment, and that only makes what I’m going to say next more apparent:
Whatever happens Saturday is going to define the Orange’s narrative for 2021. Say the Orange win: they beat Albany to go to 3-0, and are halfway to bowl eligibility. Regardless of what happens vs Liberty, there is going to be optimism and hope headed into ACC play that this season can end in a bowl game, which is what most people deem necessary to avoid changing coaching staffs and resetting the football program for the third time in 9 years. Even if that goal is not achieved, the season plays out striving for something positive, instead of slogging through conference play like last year.
But say Rutgers gets the W: even if Syracuse gets close to six wins (god forbid five wins), all of the “what ifs” will go back to this weekend, whether it was realistic or not. And no matter what happens, the national media will spin the narrative that Schiano has revived Rutgers’ standing in the northeast, ignoring Pitt and Boston College’s obvious improvements. Even though ‘Cuse is more than capable of getting great recruits out of New Jersey, the game will be treated like a nail in Syracuse’s recruiting coffin.
Does any of this make sense? Not to me, especially in an era where the Orange’s ties to the northeast continue to dwindle outside of where alumni live. (Even that is changing, as you can see with the University’s emphasis on Atlanta.) But for a lot of people, this game is a measuring stick game to the supposed northeast/historical Big East power rankings that hold zero standing to most younger fans and recruits. And like it or not, that’s the reality headed into this weekend that the Orange will have to contend with for the rest of the season.