An Old Rivalry Renewed
SYRACUSE, NY | When Syracuse and UConn are mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is basketball. After all, the two shared one of the greatest games of all time in 2009’s 6 overtime game, as well as nearly 100 meetings on the hardwood. However, that doesn’t mean the two don’t share a history on the gridiron as well.
The Huskies and Orange met from 2004-2012 when both teams were members of the Big East in football. According to Syracuse.com’s Brent Axe who’s covered SU for over 20 years, the football matchups might have never reached the significance of the basketball rivalry but still possessed regional importance.
“It’s not a rivalry, I think that’s an overused word,” said Axe. “But I think fans do appreciate when you play Connecticut, when you play Rutgers, you play Boston College, or Pittsburgh, it’s northeast football.”
Northeast football is a concept that hardly exists anymore. Long gone are the days of Syracuse bitterly matching up against Penn State or West Virginia on a yearly basis. In terms of Saturday’s matchup, rivalries fading is completely okay with UConn head coach Jim Mora.
“I’ve never been a big rivalry guy, every game is just another opportunity to go out and compete and play to win,” said Mora. “I think if you ride the up and down wave of ‘oh this is rivalry game, we’ve got to get up’ and then the next week it’s not a rivalry game so you’re not up, you become an inconsistent football team.”
But good, old-fashioned coach speak aside, the matchup does matter and has real implications. As UConn begins to rebuild its program, both Syracuse will have to compete with the Huskies on the recruiting trail. Saturday night’s matchup can provide incentive to recruits from the winner.
“It convinces those few recruits that are in these states to come to Syracuse,” said Axe. “This is not an area that’s stocked with four or five star players, so when one gets on that list, you have to do everything you can to convince them to come to Syracuse.”
Along with future recruiting battles, bragging rights are on the line for fans. Regardless of whether it’s basketball or football, Don Amore of the Hartford Courant expects the fanbases to show up Saturday night.
“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of Syracuse fans driving down here and getting tickets,” said Amore. “I think it’s going to be a pretty big deal.”
On the UConn side, Saturday night presents a real opportunity to continue the program’s slow rebuild. Throughout the past couple of years, the Huskies have been one of the worst teams in the entire country. Since 2017, UConn is the only program to have single digit wins in total.
“I think Connecticut represents kind of the worst nightmare of what can happen to you in the modern era of college football,” said Axe. “This easily could have been Syracuse if they didn’t get into the ACC.”
It’s been a sharp fall off for the UConn program. Just 11 years ago, the Huskies made the Fiesta Bowl and matched up with Oklahoma. Expectations in Storrs aren’t to make a New Years Bowl Game in the near future, but rather to start taking advantage of games like Saturday night.
“It’s another opportunity for the program to make a statement that ‘Hey we’re not a joke anymore, we can play with teams that perceived as being much better than we are’”, said Amore.
So, Saturday night might not have the magnitude of six overtimes in Madison Square Garden, but there’s still plenty on the line. It’s the return of northeast football and a nostalgic blast for both fanbases involved.