SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Before Friday night's game at the Carrier Dome, much of the buzz at the West Virginia team hotel centered on conference realignment talk. There was no official word whether Missouri was moving to the Southeastern Conference. Hey, though, were the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12?
It was assumed something was up because neither WVU president Jim Clements nor athletic director Oliver Luck showed for the game.
Unfortunately for the school, the team didn't show either.
In one of the most ill-timed collapses in school history, the host Orange shocked WVU by moving out to a 21-9 halftime lead and going on to win 49-23. The performance was not only before an ESPN audience on an off-day for the World Series. It was not only for the Schwartzwalder Trophy. It was not only with the Mountaineers ranked No. 11 and SU coming off a shaky win over Tulane and a loss to Rutgers.
It was a showdown between the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh made it so when the schools announced they were leaving the Big East. It was supposed to be a grudge match. It was supposed to be a way for the jilted league to get a little payback on Syracuse via national television. It was supposed to be time for the league's top-ranked team to move up the polls. It was supposed to be a Mountaineer smackdown of the Orange.
But it was WVU that was smacked down.
In a big, embarrassing way.
In a way that allowed Syracuse, which nipped Rhode Island 21-14, to look like No. 1 LSU.
One could almost see ACC commissioner John Swofford, who engineered not one, but two raids of the Big East, smiling like a Cheshire cat.
Syracuse had energy. WVU played like a dead battery. Mountaineer Jorge Wright was in the neutral zone early. Teammate Pat Miller whiffed not once, but twice while trying to handle Dorian Graham - a backup on the depth chart to SU receiver Van Chew. Geno Smith handled pressure well - until the end of the first quarter.
Then Smith fell to a safety blitz courtesy of Shamarko Thomas. Orange defensive lineman Chandler Jones, in his first action of the season, began to loom large. He dominated West Virginia's best offensive lineman, Don Barclay, for back-to-back sacks. He batted a ball.
WVU began to wilt. Tavon Austin dropped an easy ball. Then Smith, on third-and-8 at the Syracuse 10, threw right into traffic. Jeremi Wilkes, a backup strong safety, picked off the ball off at the goal line.