Syracuse Orange: The 1990s
Syracuse is historically a basketball powerhouse, which is a theme in the ACC. However, their football program has had its amazing moments in the sun. To me, I had two legitimate options. I could've gone with the Ben Schwartzwalder days from 1949 to 1973. His Orane squads went to two Orange Bowls, two Cotton Bowls, and a Sugar Bowl. They also had legendary players like Jim Brown during that time. However, the true golden era for Syracuse on the gridiron was during the 1990s.
The decade started okay. 1990 was the final season that Syracuse would be led by head coach Dick MacPherson. After almost a full decade of mediocrity in the 1980s, the Orange would go 11-0-1 in 1987 and 10-2 the next year. By '90 Syracuse was still respectful. Although not being ranked all year, the school would still finish with a decent mark of 7-4-2. The two ties came in back-to-back weeks in mid-September to #19 Michigan State and #25 Pittsburgh. They also had two quality wins against Temple and then Arizona, winning that Aloha Bowl 28-0.
After the year, Coach Mac would leave for a head coaching position with the New England Patriots. In MacPherson's place stepped Paul Pasqualoni. Pasqualoni was an assistant for Syracuse from 1987 to 1990. His first major division one head coaching position also came the same year the Orange moved into the Big East for football and they started with a bang. In '91 and '92, the Orange would go a combined 20-4. 1991 would see Syracuse start and end a season ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1960.
Key wins over #5 Florida on September 24th, #20 Pitt on October 19th, and #25 Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Bowl, jumped Syracuse up from #25 in the preseason poll to #11 in the final poll. The next year, Syracuse had their first top-10 preseason ranking since 1971. Although Syracuse would suffer a bad defeat in the third week to #21 Ohio State after a 2-0 start, they would win their next seven contest by an average margin of nearly 20 points. Despite a close but heartbreaking 16-10 loss to #1 Miami, Syracuse would end 1992 with a win over #10 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl to end up at #6.
The 1993 and 1994 seasons would be the opposite as they would miss the bowl season both years, finishing with mediocre 6-4-1 and 7-4 records, respectively. Pasqualoni would get the program back to being a top team in the Big East in 1995 with the arrival of quarterback Donovan McNabb and a breakout year from wideout Marvin Harrison. The first game of McNabb's college career was an upset win over #20 North Carolina. Despite getting upset themselves the next week against East Carolina, Syracuse would win six of their first seven games.
The Orange would end the regular season at 8-3 and would earn a trip to the Gator Bowl, where they would face Clemson. Because of a 41-0 romp of the Tigers, Syracuse would rank 19th to end the year. Despite starting 0-2 and losing a national ranking early in 1996, an eight-game win streak would propel them to a share with Miami and Virginia Tech for a Big East Co-Championship. This was their first-ever conference title. In 1997, the school would make it back to the Fiesta Bowl for the second time in the decade. After a 1-3 start, Syracuse would string together eight straight wins to claim their first outright Big East title.
In Donovan McNabb's final collegiate year, the Orange wouldn't be as great. However, they did upset #13 Michigan early in the year. They also defeated #16 Virginia Tech late in the year and smoked #19 Miami in the regular-season finale, 66-13. Their 8-4 overall record and 6-1 conference mark was good enough for Syracuse to earn another Big East Conference title. They would play in their first Orange Bowl since 1958. Unfortunately, they would lose to #7 Florida 31-10.
McNabb graduated and got drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles during the April draft. As a result, Syracuse would regress to a 6-5 record in the regular season. The last time the schools finished a regular season just one win over .500 was in 1984. Fortunately, Paul Pasqualoni's squad was still able to get invited to the Music City Bowl, where they would take down Kentucky. Pasqualoni would coach for five more years after '99, however, the lone bright spot for that remaining time was a 10-3 campaign in 2001.