Syracuse, N.Y. – With each of the six wins the Syracuse football team accumulated to open this season, the Orange cranked up the stakes for the next one.
Going unbeaten deeper into the season than all but five teams in school history, Syracuse saw its aspirations go from making a bowl game to breaking into the Top 20. The reasonable possibilities went from finishing with a winning record to becoming a College Football Playoff darkhorse.
But the higher you climb, the more painful the return to Earth.
So, Syracuse’s 27-21 loss to Clemson on Saturday hurt.
With losses by No. 7 Mississippi and No. 9 UCLA, the Orange fell seven points short of catapulting into the Top 10 for the first time since 1996. It will learn how far it drops when the updated rankings are released Sunday afternoon.
Syracuse also fell seven points short of possibly bringing ESPN’s “College GameDay” to campus for the first time. Seven points short of becoming favorites to win an ACC title. Seven points short of entering the College Football Playoff conversation.
Just seven points short of accomplishing so much.
Coming so close places Saturday’s loss among the most painful the Orange football team has experienced.
Here are some others that probably compare.
No. 8 Syracuse loses 16-10 vs. No. 1 Miami on Nov. 21, 1992: The most painful loss in Syracuse football history came when Chris Gedney was stopped 3 yards short as time expired against the No. 1 team in the country in the final game of SU’s regular season.
The Hurricanes (9-0) were defending national champions and winners of 27 consecutive games. Syracuse (9-1) came in with one loss and was ranked No. 8 in the country, establishing itself as an upper-echelon team that would go to the Fiesta Bowl.
A Big East title hung in the balance. So did Miami’s national title hopes.
The Post-Standard dubbed it, “The Game of the Century,” with a headline that urged fans to “Set Aside for an Afternoon Your Concern About Global Catastrophes, Politics, Family Feuds and Yard Work.”
The game lived up to its billing.
Syracuse was on the Miami 33-yard line with 6 seconds left, needing a touchdown to win. Quarterback Marvin Graves found Gedney deep over the middle, but Gedney was knocked down at the 3 by Miami’s Casey Greer as time expired.
No. 10 Syracuse loses 46-14 at No. 1 Florida State on Oct. 5, 1991: One of just six matchups between Top 10 teams in Syracuse football history, this one came against a Florida State (4-0) team that opened the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
The Orange (4-0) was ranked No. 10 in the country when it traveled to Tallahassee. One of those wins came against FSU’s rival Florida, which was ranked No. 5 before experiencing the Carrier Dome.
That loss, famously, resulted in Steve Spurrier refusing to leave the state for a non-conference game again while he coached at Florida.
Just like Saturday the Orange had early hope. Qadry Ismail hauled in a long touchdown and returned a kick for a touchdown, staking Syracuse to a 14-7 lead.
The rest of the game proved a reality check, with Florida State allowing 105 yards after the first two offensive plays, sacking Marvin Graves six times and intercepting him twice. Syracuse gave up 642 yards which was, at the time, a school record.
No. 17 Syracuse loses 34-33 vs. No. 10 Tennessee on Sept. 5, 1998: The build-up for Donovan McNabb’s senior season was huge, but an offseason of excitement was short-circuited in a season-opening loss to Tennessee.
The Orange was coming off a nine-win season, returning the best player on its roster since the Holy Trinity of running backs. Tennessee was coming off an 11-win season and labeled a national title contender.
It was a huge game to open the year. And a gut-punch at the finish.
Facing 4th-and-7 with 1:43 remaining on its own 33 and trailing by two points, Tennessee got a pass interference flag thrown against Syracuse defensive back Will Allen that Syracuse fans recall to this day.
The flag kept the drive alive and allowed the Volunteers to kick the game-winning field goal.
The fact that Tennessee went on to win the national title makes it hurt a little more in hindsight.
No. 13 Syracuse loses 32-31 in overtime vs. North Carolina State on Aug. 30, 1997: Syracuse opened the season by drubbing nationally ranked Wisconsin, 34-0. The game was played on national TV and in Giants Stadium. Donovan McNabb’s performance started early conversation about a Heisman Trophy.
Then the Orange suffered a letdown against a North Carolina State team playing its first game.
In position to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired, the Orange inexplicably handed the ball off to running back Dee Brown at the 1-yard line.
Brown fumbled and the game went into overtime, where the Wolfpack surprised the Orange by going for a two-point conversion and completed a game-winning pass to Torry Holt.
No. 3 Syracuse loses 10-0 at Pittsburgh on Oct. 29, 1960: Not many Syracuse fans remain who can speak to the sting of this one, but the Orange was coming off the only national title in school history and had won 16-consecutive games before this visit to Pittsburgh.
Syracuse (5-0) was ranked No. 3 in the country before the defeat at Archbold Stadium. The Panthers (2-2-2) managed to hold Ernie Davis and the Orange scoreless for the first time in 26 games.
No. 14 Syracuse loses 27-21 at No. 5 Clemson on Oct. 22, 2022: Just like the loss to Tennessee, Syracuse fans will have complaints about Saturday for years.
The officials called Syracuse (6-0) for a damaging personal foul penalty to keep a key Clemson (7-0) drive alive, then declined to throw a flag that would have benefited Syracuse on a similar play. Dino Babers wasted 25 seconds that could have been useful as the Orange tried to drive the length of the field late.
Ultimately, the Orange wasted four forced turnovers and were unable to end Clemson’s 37-game home winning streak, the longest in ACC history.
No. 14 Syracuse loses 59-0 at No. 1 Miami on Nov. 17, 2001: This one wasn’t painful because of how close it was, but because of how close it wasn’t.
This is the last time that Syracuse has been nationally ranked when facing the No. 1 team in the country.
The Orange (8-2) overcame two early losses to top-10 opponents to climb to No. 14 in the country.
A 59-0 loss showcased the disheartening gap between a 10-win Orange team and one of the most talented teams college football has ever produced.
Miami (8-0) finished the season unbeaten with a roster that had 38 eventual NFL draft picks and 17 first-round picks.
No. 10 Syracuse loses 27-6 vs. No. 5 Miami on Nov. 5, 1994: It’s been nearly 30 years since Syracuse has been involved in a top-10 matchup, a drought that dates all the way back to this game.
Syracuse (6-1) lost a one-point decision to Oklahoma in its opener but had climbed back to No. 10. The Hurricanes had a matching record coming in and shut down the Orange 27-6.
No. 9 Syracuse loses 27-10 vs. No. 24 North Carolina on Sept. 76. 1996: Donovan McNabb had a remarkable career, but the Orange wasn’t able to win its first two games during any of the four seasons he was on campus.
Because of that, McNabb never played in a college game with substantial national championship hopes on the line.
Syracuse finished the previous year on a 9-1 run, earning the Orange a top-10 ranking out of the gate. The Tar Heels squashed that momentum early, and Syracuse spent the rest of the season climbing back up.
No. 16 Syracuse loses 62-0 at No. 4 Virginia Tech on Oct. 16, 1999 at Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech (5-0) quarterback Michael Vick nearly came to Syracuse to follow Donovan McNabb but wound up with the Hokies instead, a decision that would take the programs in two directions.
Vick’s reputation took a hit during his time in the NFL after he pled guilty to running a dog-fighting ring, but he was a national darling as a college football player. He helped the Hokies run for 322 yards in his first start against the Orange. Shyrone Stith did the majority of that damage, rushing for 140.
The Orange (5-1) had already lost but it was a close game against Michigan, while the Hokies (5-0) went on to play Florida State for the national title. The loss was so bad that it sent Syracuse tumbling from the national rankings.
No. 21 Syracuse loses 63-20 at Maryland on Sept. 7, 2019: Until this season, this was the last time the Orange owned a measure of national respect.
A win would have brought ESPN’s “College GameDay” to Syracuse’s campus for the first time. The visit would have set up a Homecoming Game against No. 1 Clemson, the defending national champion. The teams had split the two previous games, both of them close. The hoopla would have been huge.
The Terrapins ruined it all with a blowout win that was the first sign the Orange wouldn’t be able to build immediately off the success of its 2018 season.
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