Syracuse Football: A Program Revival

Bob Levey

Syracuse finished a perfectly average 6-6 this season but won the final game of the season, the Texas Bowl, over an opponent many considered to be superior. This marks back to back bowl wins for the program and winning seasons with bowl victories in three of the last four seasons. Is this a true program "revival?" I say yes.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines revival as "the growth of something or an increase in the activity of something after a long period of no growth or activity" as well as "a period in which something becomes popular again after a long period of time." It a word more commonly used synonymously with "resurrection" when it comes to sports, specifically collegiate sports programs. All three of these definitions can fitted into the constraints of Syracuse University football since the end of the Greg Robinson (henceforth known as GERG) Era in 2008.

GERG entered with a program that was on the slide, but still managed to post back to back .500 campaigns. When he left, 3-25 in conference play looked almost too positive to be the reality of the damage GERG caused.

Now this is where we must stop before I go any further in my argument for a revival of Syracuse football under Doug Marrone and Scott Shafer. Before GERG, the expectations around Syracuse were elevated thanks to one McNabb, Donovan who was a collegiate legend. But it was also a different game of collegiate football. TV contracts didn't dictate what conference you played in. Recruits could be hidden in small towns to be picked up by dedicated and savvy coaches who were far more baseball scouts than school representatives, even as recently as 2001.

Back to the revival. Doug Marrone was handed a deck without face cards and told to put himself with the chip leaders. You know the story. It's how Marrone earned a call up to the Bills. Not only did Marrone reach eight wins in his second season, but he took young men with mental fortitude and used their natural drive to create athletes now playing at the highest level.

When Marrone left, the program was handed off internally to man who on the surface is yang to Marrone's yin. Yet all year, Shafer has said the same things about the program and the players Marrone said, just in a much more colorful and entertaining fashion. Syracuse is about finding young men with a drive to succeed, to self motivate in the gym and classroom and turn maybe the smaller not as fast kid into a solid D-1 starter.

This method has earned the Orange back to back bowl berths for the first time since '96-'97 and back to back bowl victories since '95-'96. While the bowl system has only expanded to match the corporate nature of the NCAA, it nonetheless shows that the Orange can compete with like schools from other conferences often in a convincing manner.

I know it's in the nature of Syracuse fans and most of sports media in general to look at weaknesses and find talking points for debate. The Orange have only finished above third in their respective conference once since 2004. The Orange can't match up with powerhouses in the ACC and certainly not the SEC. I'm not debating any of these facts. But I am saying that for a private school in the middle of New York that was left for dead just five seasons ago, the program has returned to it's winning ways and slowly drawing interest again. It is in a revival.

However, the word also has a third definition:

The showing of a play, a movie, etc., to the public usually many years after it was last shown : a new production of an old show.

Terrel Hunt certainly made an impression in Texas, showing off his ability to extend and make plays with his legs to compliment a power arm. Brisley Estime was a true freshman playmaker on a bowl winning team. Ashton Broyld developed a bond with Hunt and can be integrated into an offense in a plethora of creative ways. Shafer has consistently developed an 11 man defense that relentlessly pressures the quarterback. I'm always an abuser of hyperbole, but you can't help but notice flashes of players past starting become realities with new names and flashier helmets.

Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I say that Syracuse Football completed at least one revival in Houston. Maybe there's another one in production, complete with Orange helmets and a bowl full of Oranges.

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