By Chris Mahr
About two weeks ago, one of my roommates who’s a USC fan asked me if I wanted to go with her to the Trojans’ Sept. 8 game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. I readily agreed.
After which my first thought was, “I can’t wait to go to my first college football game in two years.” My second thought: “I wonder if USC will beat Syracuse by more or less than 30 points.”
My second thought is not meant to be an insult to the Orange. Rather, any FBS team from the Northeast and upper Mid-Atlantic could be in Syracuse’s position and I’d be thinking the same thing.
It’s true that the region’s passion for college football and it’s proficiency at it will never match that of the South, Midwest, Plains or Pacific. But you would expect that a part of the U.S. home to no less than 17% of the country’s population would have at least one program making waves at the FBS level.
With college football low on the totem pole of sports in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, even churning out decent seasons year after year while avoiding bad headlines would be acceptable.
Some teams have been unable to do one or the other. Often they’ve been unable to do either.
Syracuse: Follows up successful Donovan McNabb era in late-1990s with the school’s second “Dry Period” starting in early-2000s. Orange’s record since a 10–3 campaign in ’01: 43–77, with just one winning season.
Boston College: Tom O’Brien’s Eagles won no fewer than seven games a season from 1999 to 2006. Successor Jeff Jagodzinski followed that up by leading BC to consecutive ACC title games, only to be fired for interviewing with the New York Jets. The Eagles sank to 4–8 in 2011, their lowest win total since 1998.
Rutgers: Greg Schiano transformed the Scarlet Knights from Big East doormat into a respectable program that produced NFL players and enjoyed five straight winning seasons (2005–09). Now Schiano is gone, leaving others to deal with the negative publicity that comes from the athletic department growing at a crippling expense to the school’s academics.
UConn: The Huskies went a respectable 33–19 from 2007–10 and even lucked into a Fiesta Bowl bid in 2010 (where they were predictably crushed by Oklahoma, 48–20). Then they made such a questionable coaching hire in Paul Pasqualoni that the program’s biggest booster, Robert Burton, demanded the return of $3 million in donations. It’s hard to blame him after a 5-7 season last fall.
Maryland: UConn’s old coach, Randy Edsall, used the Huskies’ fluke Fiesta Bowl bid to land the job at Maryland — which had unwittingly fired reigning ACC Coach of the Year Ralph Friedgen after a 9–4 season. Edsall promptly guided the Terps to a 2–10 record in 2011.
Temple: The Owls actually had a great 2011 season, going 9-4 in Steve Addazio’s first season. The catch? They did it in the MAC. Now in the Big East and returning just seven starters, Temple is expected to finish dead last in the worst BCS conference.
It’s been even worse for the region’s two bellwether programs.
Pittsburgh: Former Panther Dave Wannstedt appeared to have his alma mater back on the national scene after a 10–3 season in 2009 in which Pitt finished No. 15 in the Coaches and AP Polls. Since then, the Panthers have had four head coaches, made headlines by having 22 players on its 2010 roster with criminal records and finished with a losing record last year.
Penn State: No explanation necessary.
Virginia Tech and West Virginia are the closest thing the Northeast can currently claim as good football teams in its part of the country. And regionally speaking, those are more southern than they are northern.
With the 2012 college football season just weeks away, Northeast and northern Mid-Atlantic football fans are better off spending their Saturdays picking apples. And waiting for Midnight Madness in October.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter @CMahrtian.