November 17, 2012; Columbia, MO, USA; The Syracuse Orange celebrate their upset victory over the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field. The Syracuse Orange defeated the Missouri Tigers 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Dak Dillon-US PRESSWIRE - Dak Dillon-US Presswire
What is the significance of this win over Missouri? Has Syracuse football turned the corner? We still may not be able to answer these questions in the long term, but right now we root for a pretty good football team.
Remember "fire Doug Marrone"?
Remember when Nate Hackett was over his head as a coordinator, and only got the job through nepotism?
Remember when Ryan Nassib was a happy-footed quarterback with a limited ability to read a defense and no touch?
Remember "Lemon drops"?
Remember when Doug Marrone only won with Greg Robinson's players?
From the moment that first snap sailed over Greg Paulus' head, to that which Alec Lemon crossed the goal line with 20 seconds remaining in the game against Missouri, these thoughts have raced through every Syracuse fan's head, even if only for a moment. No matter how optimistic you may be, it is almost impossible to deny that this program and its fans have been dragged through some serious periods of doubt.
And now we're on cloud nine.
Sure, some will discredit the win as being "only Missouri", which is fair I guess. Missouri is an SEC squad, but they're sort of the "dude that married into the family that people wish they didn't need to invite to Thanksgiving" of the conference. However, this is a game that Syracuse has not won in years - a road contest against a solid out of conference BCS team who had everything to gain. The Tigers are going to College Station next weekend, and I'm fairly certain they weren't circling Johnny Football's Aggies as the "easy win" left on their schedule. If anything, Syracuse was the team that could more afford to rest on its laurels tonight. Instead, the Orange went into enemy territory, played mistake-free football for a second straight week, and grabbed bowl eligibility by the throat.
So here we are. Have we turned "the corner" yet? Over the last four years, Syracuse has "turned the corner" more times than I care to count, yet no one has handed me $200. "Turning the corner" is entirely relative to one's expectation for this program. Are we relevant? I'd say yes. Could we, say, win a conference crown? Maybe? National championship? Pass that, bro.
At this point, I'm going to wait until there is no doubt as to where we stand as a program, and look back and maybe then, I'll figure out where that corner was. As I said after last week's win, one game is just a brief look into a much greater process.
That's not to discredit how big this win is for Syracuse, at least for this 2012 squad. One of the beautiful things about college sports is the imperfection of it all. These are 18-22 year olds playing a game. In many ways, they are deeply engrained into our community as individuals, especially for those who are on campus. I love pro sports as well, but I won't ever take a class with R.A. Dickey. I'll never throw back shots with Aaron Rodgers at Chucks. I'm never going to run into Deron Williams' parents at a tailgate. Off the field, these guys are doing a lot of the same things that other SU students are, except their tuition is paid for and they show up on some iteration of ESPN once a week. Pro sports are great, but those are, for all intents and purposes, the top .1% of all people in the world at their respective sports. They're perfect athletes playing other perfect athletes, and occasionally the Cleveland Browns.
The imperfection of college athletes is what makes it so special. It is what allows teams to put up five, six, seven hundred yards in a game. It allows a freshman quarterback to knock off the nation's undisputed top team one Saturday, and have two other undefeated teams drop games the following weekend. These are teenagers and young adults, as we all are or once were. This is why the drama of college athletics is rarely matched. Literally anything can happen at any moment, and we get to bask in the spectacle of it all.
Just about two years ago, my Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl over the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the first time any of my teams had won their respective championship. I was elated...though, I was more so 37 days prior when Syracuse beat Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl. I knew how good Green Bay was. They had the best player in football. I had no idea how good Syracuse was in 2010, and I watched every play of every game that season. College players can shock you, even when you think that you know everything about them. They can take massive steps in incredibly short periods of time.
That's what makes this 2012 team so much fun. They may rip your heart out, but they also have the ability to do wonderful, dramatic, amazing things on the football field. Ryan Nassib has ice in his veins, the dude has nine career fourth quarter comebacks under his belt. Who could have guessed that two years ago? Alec Lemon is going to go down as one of the best receivers in school history, and not just in a "well we pass the ball a lot more now and whatnot" sense. Two years ago he had a broken hand and played through it, and was reviled for it.
I don't know where the corner is. It could be behind us, it could be miles on up the road. I don't know what lies in store for this program in a post-Nassib, post-Lemon, post-#SHAMARKO world. We may take the ACC by storm, we may tread water for a few more years until the anti-Marrone sharks smell blood once again. If we knew what was going to happen, would any of us tune in every week?
The one thing I do know is that right now, this is a good football team. A damn good football team.