We’ve done honorable mentions and have gotten through numbers 2 and 3. Now, we are down to our final reveal. This three-part series of the best seasons in Syracuse football history comes to and end with our No. 1, and it’s certainly a good one.
No. 1: 1959 (11-0)
This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many. Regardless, that won’t stop us from taking a dive into the history books to reflect on what very likely was the greatest team in Syracuse football history.
Freshman Ernie Davis led the ’59 squad in rushing, but two others – Gehrard Schwedes and Art Baker – joined Davis in rushing for over 500 yards. The Orange as a team rushed for over 3,000 yards, which accounted for over 70 percent of its total yards from scrimmage. SU also led the nation in points per game, at 37.5.
On defense, Syracuse held its opponents to just 6 points per contest. The Orange allowed 21 points in Week 1 to Kansas – a game it still won by two touchdowns – and after that, never allowed more than 18 in a game for the rest of the season. A few standout performances in particular included a 32-6 win over Navy, a 20-18 victory against No. 7 Penn State and a whopping 36-8 blowout of No. 17 UCLA. The Orange then concluded its national championship campaign with a 23-14 win over No. 4 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
That season-ending Cotton Bowl victory was also Syracuse’s first bowl game win in program history. SU had made it to three prior bowl games under head coach Ben Schwartzwalder, coming up short in each one – first, the Orange Bowl in 1952 and then the Cotton Bowl in both 1956 and 1958. However, with its Cotton Bowl win bringing home a national championship in 1959, it’s safe to say the Orange certainly achieved redemption.
Schwartzwalder would go on to coach for 14 more years at Syracuse, leading the Orange to another bowl game victory in the Liberty Bowl at the end of the 1961 season. Schwartzwalder’s 25-year tenure on The Hill – as a whole – yielded a national championship, over 150 total wins, two bowl game victories, seven bowl game births, and top-25 appearances 13 different seasons. Schwartzwalder’s successful run at SU was recognized in 1982 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
On top of Syracuse’s undefeated season and national championship victory, offensive lineman Roger Davis was named a consensus All-American selection. With Ernie Davis becoming the next Syracuse player to receive All-American honors, [Roger] Davis ended up taking home the award right in between Jim Brown (1956) and [Ernie] Davis (1960, 1961) – a pretty cool feat to have happen, in the heart of what undeniably was a golden age in program history.