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The History Card

If Syracuse football has any supposed trump cards over Rutgers, you'd think that it'd be centered on their program's tradition. They're 38th in all-time DI-A/FBS winning percentage, and had two very successful periods (between the late '50s to late '60s under Ben Schwartzwalder, and between the late '80s to late '90s under Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni). Between Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, Floyd Little, Ernie Davis, and Joe Morris, they've put out as many quality backs as any program.

SU holds the edge in the all-time series between the schools, at 28-10-1, which is better than their records against any other Big East football opponent. For any fans who started following SU football at some point during the MacPherson/Pasqualoni eras, it's obvious why Rutgers winning five of the last six games in the series, and six of the last ten (yes, Terry Shea actually beat a McNabb-less Cuse on 11/13/99 in overtime) is so disconcerting.

That's where the Orange faithful are coming from. Fine and good, but my counter is that all those past letter winners don't have any eligibility left. Every program will have ebbs and flows in its trajectory (Frank Maloney didn't win all that much in the seventies), and the '90s not only saw Syracuse a high note, but Rutgers football hit its absolute nadir under Shea, a disasterous hiring with an uncanny number of similarities to Greg Robinson.

Any fans who started following Syracuse in that era can't help but still see the RU football program as a punch line, even though its history is more one of mediocrity and missed opportunity than absolute failure. Until the I-A/I-AA distinction was formalized in 1978, Rutgers played the equivalent of what is now a Patriot League schedule, and actually saw some relative success, including an undefeated 1976 season (where they infamously turned down a bid to the Independence Bowl). As bad of a hire as Shea was, that was only the culmination of decades of neglect and not placing much of a priority on a successful athletic program. The former athletic director, Bob Mulcahy, was only able to convince Greg Schiano to leave the University of Miami nine years ago with promises of finally allocating sufficient resources to bring all facets of the football program up to par.

The five historical worst BCS conference football programs by winning percentage are Wake Forest, Indiana, Kansas State, Northwestern, and Iowa State. It seems odd to point towards history when programs like Oklahoma State and Cincinnati are lighting up the scoreboards at the moment. Naturally though, fans are always going to use the period where they started paying attention to the sport as their frame of reference.

It's just like how the nation has a scurge of bandwagon fans of the Cowboys, Packers, and Steelers. Those were the most prominent franchises in the late '60s and '70s when the nascent NFL first started to make its mark on the national consciousness. Those Syracuse fans are never going to accept Rutgers for this reason, which is fine, and ultimately not worth getting upset over. There are now a legion of high school recruits who view the Cuse as synonymous with failure, and until if and when Doug Marrone gets things turned around, that's going to have more of an impact over the next decade than anything else. He is legitimately a good guy and doing things the right way, just like Coach Schiano, so I can't really say that I'm rooting against him or the Cuse.

I don't see the fates of the programs as linked all that closely, even taking into account that Ray Rice decommited after Coach P's firing. In fact, I do hope that they're at least competitive at some point, if only to help raise the overall conference profile. Over the years, Rutgers and Syracuse have both risen and fallen on their own merits. Any future success will be wholly dependent on internal factors for the most part. I'm absolutely confident that Coach Schiano will make steady, continued progress in coming years in decades. Marrone very well may, but I think there's more than enough room for both. In fact, there are eight schools, counting RU, that are closer to the City than Syracuse, and Schiano and staff have to take the other seven into account too. The whole thing to do is for each program to keep its head down and go about its own business with singular focus, unconcerned about keeping up with the Joneses.

UConn is a good example. Randy Edsall takes players that Rivals and Scout have never even heard of and sends them into the NFL every year. Some of the top Colonial Athletic Association teams beat the likes of Duke, Temple, and UVA this year, so there's clearly talent that still slips through the cracks. And for all this talk about a civil war over New York City, or 6 first round picks from New Jersey in last April's draft, the northeast as a whole doesn't produce that much talent. Rutgers still has to go into the Mid-Atlantic region and to southern Florida for players.

If you look at the present Syracuse coaching staff, they have several assistants with ties to NYC and NJ, but not as many as Pasqualoni did in the McNabb era. Marrone also has position coaches assigned to places like Florida, Maryland, Western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Despite any jabs in the press, he clearly knows that he has to make Syracuse into a program with national recruiting reach; an east coast answer to Stanford if you will. After all, Donovan McNabb grew up in the Chicago area.

Any talk of a budding rivalry is just hooey. Sure, Syracuse is playing a few home games in Giants Stadium in coming years, but there aren't all that many college football fans in New York City. It's just that it's so big, and so wealthy, that even an infinitesimal percentage has some value, and confers some bragging rights. Hence, the Syracuse athletic department declaring that this weekend's game was "Celebrate New York Day", and all of my subsequent cracks about how thoughtful it was for them to do that when the only BCS conference team that plays in the NYC market came to town.

Proximity and heated words aren't sufficient for a rivalry however; not when neither program has ever really been that competitive at the same time (which is why I didn't consider Giants/Eagles in the NFL much of a rivalry until recent years). The bottom line is that their fans see Rutgers as a joke, our fans see Syracuse as a joke, and that won't change in the near future barring years of competitive football games. In all likelihood, this year's game isn't going to be all that competitive. It was foolish to ever think that it would be. They're just one of seven other conference teams, that's it. For now, that's the only reason that this game has any more significance than say, Army.

'sides, I honestly don't think that Syracuse fans aren't all that bad. Now, BC fans? There's a target worthy of true vitriol.