It’s taken a long time for Syracuse Orange football to get back to the heights it's at now. With a 6-0 record, the No. 14 ranking in the AP and Coaches’ Polls, and a real chance to hang with No. 5 Clemson tomorrow, ‘Cuse can truly be proud of its first-half success.
Naturally, the comparisons to all-time great SU teams are there for the taking, so I’ll be doing just that. Here’s how the current Orange stack up with the program’s most legendary squads:
1992: 10-2, No. 6 in Final AP Poll
Fresh off a 10-win campaign that started their Big East tenure, the Orange ran it back and got to double-digit wins again the following year. They started the season 5-1, with the only loss being to an Ohio State unit getting revenge for the previous Hall of Fame Bowl. Just like this year, the first ranked win of the season came in game number six: a 20-17 victory at No. 24 West Virginia. The ‘92 squad had a +36 point differential through six games, compared to this year’s astounding +137. (Take out Wagner and it becomes +78.)
The ‘Cuse defense led the way with twelve players recording picks. DB Bob Grosvenor had half-a-dozen in his junior year. The final prize was a 26-22 triumph over No. 10 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl - the last New Year’s Six win for SU. They also took home the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy, given to the best FBS team in the East, for the sixth time in program history.
1987: 11-0-1, No. 4 in Final AP Poll
The one that came up just short. It’s hard to bring this season up without cursing Pat Dye for not playing to win the Sugar Bowl, but there are still so many parallels worth mentioning. Like this year, these Orange actually went into the season unranked and with timid expectations - they did just finish 5-6 in ‘86. Also more in line with the present day is the 97 more points Syracuse scored in their first six contests. That sixth victory was, surprise, the first ranked win of the year, a certain 48-21 thrashing of No. 10 Penn State that started off with a bang.
Can confirm: sold-out crowds and 5-0 Orange teams go well together.
1959: 11-0, No. 1 in Final AP Poll
The Debut of The Express. The Country’s Best Offense. Consensus National Champions. ESPN’s 39th-Best College Football Team of all-time.
Can any other Orange team really hold a candle to this group? Maybe, maybe not, but it shouldn’t stop them from trying.
Starting with the dominant defense: the Mob is a group to be feared, but compared to this bunch? That shut out FIVE of ten opponents in the regular season? That is a mark that I doubt will ever be reached in college football again. It’s a defense that Lee Corso says is the best of all-time.
We all know how integral Ernie Davis was to this team, but what you might not know is part of the reason for that. SU was pure ground-and-pound, a sharp contrast to Rob Anae’s air-raid offense. There were actually five different guys to spend time at QB during the season, some of them other RBs who happened to throw a handful of passes too. Just goes to show how different football was at the time.
One final similarity is how the eventual National Champions faced two ranked opponents on the road: No. 7 Penn State in Week 7, and No. 17 UCLA to close out the regular season. And what do our current Orange have to do? Face Clemson and No. 13 Wake Forest... on the road.
Never say Never.