When is a game a must-win? When isn't every game a must-win?
Two questions with tough to define answers, especially when it comes to college football. Both can become more difficult depending on the teams involved.
For the likes of Alabama, LSU, and even Oregon, every Saturday is a must-win if they want to have a chance at the national championship. But for a team like Syracuse? A program with actual giddy hope of playing in something called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, a loss here or there, any given Friday or Saturday, it isn't exactly life altering.
Just look at where the Orange are sitting right now, 1-3 one month into 2012. Sure, fans are disappointed by the record and lost opportunities against Northwestern and Minnesota, but hope still exists that the season can end with 6 wins and a trip to St. Pete in December.
That's the funny thing, 1-3 in Baton Rouge and Les Miles is moving into a bunker, but in Syracuse, fans barely blink at a losing record after the first month of the season. In many ways, defeat has become a way of life with fans evolving to barely notice it. Like $4.00 a gallon for gas. It's a pain, but what can you do? It's just life.
And that's why I find this week's game, Friday night, against Pittsburgh all the more fascinating. Is this an actual must-win for Syracuse? Should the Panthers beat Syracuse one more time, which its done routinely for the last decade by the way, is 2012 officially a dud? Or is 1-4 a lot like 1-3 in that there is enough winnable games ahead that Doug Marrone and company could still pull five wins out of the hat?
Somehow Pittsburgh v. Syracuse is a pretty good case study for expectations and hope, and maybe it will even define the rest of this season.
Pittsburgh @ Syracuse - A Must Win
I wanted to make this a full-fledged Tweet Bag, but I realized shortly after throwing this question out to the Twitter...universe?...that most fans consider Friday night's game a potential season-savor.
@IdiotsOnSports WHO doesnt think it's a must win? Disappointing start to the season but the conference is still in play.
@OrangeFeed I get why Brent says it's not, but I really think that it is. The odds become too daunting
Winning could be that spark the team, and fans, desperately need. It could be the start of what will end up being a season SU fans will actually want to remember. Instead of being clumped together with 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011.
Recognizing how important the win would be is a solid argument for why beating Pitt is a must for Marrone. Which goes back to the whole, when isn't every game a must-win question. Sometimes games aren't must-wins because of what a loss would mean, rather sometimes games are must-wins because victory can change the momentum and direction of a season.
Pittsburgh @ Syracuse - Not A Must Win
Similar logic here. Is 1-4 really that different from 1-3? Especially with 7 games still ahead after Friday. Orange fans weren't thinking of the BCS national championship to start with, 4 losses in the first five games doesn't exactly rule out backdooring into a low level bowl like the Beef Bowl. So a loss isn't as important as to what a win could mean.
Pittsburgh @ Syracuse - A Season Lost?
There is another thought as to why Friday night may not be a must for SU. If 2012 is already lost then a win or loss doesn't really matter. In losing to the Wildcats and Golden Gophers (Are there any other kind of gophers than the golden variety, I ask you?) SU may have blown its chance at getting to six wins. If you're buying into the Big East right now, Syracuse's schedule still holds games against ranked opponents like at Rutgers (laugh, but the Knights may be legit), at Cincinnati, and home for Louisville. Plus, the Orange travel to Missouri (beatable, but that's a tough trip) and to Temple (very winnable, but who knows what will happen by this point).
All things considered, maybe Pittsburgh isn't a must-win because SU already lost too many must-wins. No one thinks of the first game of the season as a season definer, that is until the end of the season and you think back to how big each loss actually turned out to be.
Pittsburgh @ Syracuse - A Big Game
I think no matter which side you fall on when it comes to must-wins, this is one of the few times being an Orange football fan could actually be better than rooting for the teams who risk their entire season every Saturday. When those Big Boy teams lose, fans jump ship, call for the coaches head, and start waiting for next season. When Syracuse losses, fans simply shrug and say, There's always next week.
This game is probably bigger than any of us realize right now. And it'll be interesting, watching the Orange and the Panthers. On the field it should be a competitive game, possibly one of those which team has the ball last wins battles. But after the game, in the following weeks, it will be even more interesting to see how Friday's result impacts the team. Will a win lead to a better season? Will a loss mean the beginning of the end for 2012 or will it just confirm 2012 was already dead.
I'm inclined to think Friday is a must win because a victory would be a big mental boost for everybody, players and fans alike. Plus, I haven't completely written off 2012, and a win against Pitt validates my hope that Marrone and the team can turn it around. Will I start digging the grave for the Orange with a loss, or, for the pessimists, will I start helping lay the coffin into the ground? Probably not, but losing to the Panthers will make it tougher to say, There's always next week.
Because at some point, next week will not matter for Syracuse. At some point, later on, we'll look back and think, Man, that game earlier in the season was really a must-win for the Orange. Even if we didn't realize it at the time.