Or 2010, if they play in the International Bowl...
Reason #1 - They Should Have Gone 6-6 THIS Year.
The further away I get from the 2008 season, the more convinced I am of the Inverse Properties Of A Bad Coach Theorem.
Take, for instance, the Miami Dolphins of 2007. Inept. Putrid. Lacking in any fundamental ability to win win football games. Their draft was a mess. The coach and players didn't like each other. 1-15 was the obvious outcome.
Now fast forward to the 2008 Miami Dolphins. A coach with a plan and a GM who knows what he's doing. A very solid draft strategy. Smart free agent acquisitions. A renewed desire within the organization to win. The personnel on the field changed only slightly but the outcome was drastically different. 11-5, a division title and hosting a playoff game. That the Dolphins lost that game is irrelevant.
If Tony Sparano is the coach and Bill Parcells is the GM of the Dolphins in 2007, do the Dolphins go 11-5 then as well? Likely not. But I bet they would have done better than 1-15. I can pretty much guarantee it. So as much as Sparano et al. should get credit for being a smart organization, you have to look at his predecessor, Cam Cameron, and say that guy must be a really crappy coach. He took what was probably a 5-11 team and turned them into a 1-15 team. Whereas Tony Sparano took what was probably a 7-9 team and turned them into an 11-5 winner.
Now look at Syracuse in 2008. A 3-9 season and a disaster at almost every position all season long. You have to write off Northwestern, Penn State, South Florida, Rutgers, UConn and Cincy. And of course the Orange did beat Northeastern, Louisville and Notre Dame. But look closely at Akron, Pitt and West Virginia. A good coach doesn't let a 5-7 Akron team come into the Dome and push us around. Syracuse had the Pitt game going into the 4th quarter. And they ALMOST beat West Virginia.
Greg was right about one thing. Our team did flash at times. It did show sparks and signs of life against Pittsburgh and West Virginia. It did prove that we had able-bodied football players on our roster, capable of winning. Unfortunately for them, they lacked the proper leadership and discipline to make good on it.
If Syracuse had a better coach, I'd be willing to wager that the Orange would have won two, if not all three of those games against Akron, Pitt and WVU. As pitiful as they looked in those other six losses, these were games that a good head football coach would have figured out how to win. Especially considering he was lining up across from Dave Wannstedt and Bill "Greg Robinson II" Stewart in two of them.
Instead, we now recount the ineptitude of the way those games were handled like they were war stories handed down from generation to generation. "And then...if you can believe it...he substituted in a true freshman who had never played before into the fourth quarter on the most critical play of the game while his star halfback was standing on the sidelines ready to play..."
A good coach would have squeezed 5, maybe 6 wins out of this bunch this season. Plain and simple. And that leads us to the next reason...
Reason #2 - Doug Marrone
Going back to the Miami Dolphins, ESPN's John Clayton was on the radio recently talking about what the difference was between the 2007 team and the 2008 team. He mentioned that in speaking with many of the players, a pattern had developed. Almost all of them spoke about how Cam Cameron painted in broad strokes. When asked what the team needed to do to win, he would say "We have to get better" or "We have to keep fighting." When asked by players to specifically address what he wanted to accomplish, Cameron would continue talking in vagueries.
Sound remotely familiar?
Tony Sparano, on the other hand, has been very specific with the players and organization since day one. He came in and talked about what he wanted to do, how he wanted to do it and what he expected from his players. He never shied away from confrontation and has been tough when he needed to be to make sure the players did exactly what he wanted them to do.
Greg Robinson was a terrible head coach. That's not news to anyone who reads this site, or, breathes. But look around at other programs who made dramatic upswings in Year One of a new coaching regime. Is it the personnel? Probably not, they can't be THAT different. Is it dumb luck? Maybe. Or is it the fact that a good coach is worth a few more wins than a bad coach? It probably is that easy.
A good coach creates schemes for the offense and defense that work based on what's available, not because they worked somewhere else. A good coach recognizes when his players need to be conditioned better and rode harder in order to make then better. A good coach makes critical decisions at key times of the game that improve his team's chances of winning. A good coach always knows what's going on. A good coach is in control. A good coach knows exactly what he wants and not just in abstract terms.
I don't know if Doug Marrone is a good coach yet. But if he coaches the way he says he will, I think he could be. Given that he also has the benefit of seeing the fallout from Greg Robinson's style first-hand, he's already starting out ahead of the curve. Some of Greggers mistakes are so glaringly obvious and ridiculous that it would hard for Marrone to actually repeat them.
Marrone has already proven that he can quickly assemble a solid staff made up of coaches and admins with big-program experience and real-word recruiting acumen (hooray to me for working "acumen" into this). He's (apparently) busting his ass on the recruiting trail, a trail he knows personally and very well. And he's got a very clear vision of what he wants to do on offense and defense and how he's going to go about it, from what I can tell.
If Greg Robinson is a -3 Coach (his presence will cost you three more games than if an average head coach was in charge), I'm willing to put Doug as a +1 for now. And as a Greggers would say, that's a step in real growth.
Reason #3 - The Boys Are Back In Town
Arthur Jones, far and away the best player on the defensive side of the ball, is coming back. And he's got a draft status to worry about.
Mike Williams, far and away the best wide receiver (and arguably the best overall player) on the team is coming back with a MASSIVE chip on his shoulder.
Antwon Bailey, Delone Carter and Doug Hogue, a solid core of running backs, will all be back.
Marcus Sales, Donte Davis and Van Chew, an ever-improving core of young receivers, is returning with a year of experience under their belts.
The unfrozen corpses of Cam Dantley and Andrew Robinson will be exhumed once again in July in order to ensure that they will be available come summer camp in order to build on lessons learned in 2008.
Kevyn Scott, Max Suter and Mike Holmes anchor an improving defensive secondary.
Florida and Oklahoma they are not. But look around at the departing seniors and the Orange aren't losing THAT much.
Yes, the backfield will sorely miss Curtis Brinkley and Tony "All-American-ish" Fiammetta. Two great athletes who will hopefully be remembered more fondly than the teams they played for. But the Orange have an able-bodied cadre of RBs ready to fill the gap.
Ryan Durand leaves behind an improved offensive line in much better shape than when he started playing on it.
Bruce Williams and Jake Flaherty leave the defense in better hands than its been in recently and hey, it's not like it can get any worse, right?
It doesn't sound impressive when you say the core of a 3-9 team will be returning. But given the program's reboot and the fresh opportunities afforded to so many of the players, it's a lot better than you think.
Reason #4 - The Schedule's Actually Not That Bad
On paper, next season's schedule looks to be about as brutal as, well, this year's. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that it's actually rife with cracked and crevises that the Orange can slip through in order to eek out a couple extra wins.
Start the season at home against Minnesota. I bet no one though the Gophers could win 7 games a year removed from winning 1. But they did. And now they're the prototype the Orange want to follow. It's the first game of the Marrone Era. At home. Anything's possible.
You can go ahead and discount the game at Penn State. That's a big L. Obviously.
Next up is Northwestern at home. The Wildcats were much improved in 2008 as well and spanked the Orange in their own backyard. Definitely a tall order with the Wildcats returning the bulk of their defense.
At some point the Orange will play Akron on the road. This is a game SU has to win. It's a moral imperative.
The fifth OOC slot is still TBD. Unless everyone is crazy, this will be a 1-AA team again or at least a team living near the dregs of 1-A, like us.
As for the Big East, it doesn't take long to realize that the conference is probably going to be just as wide open next year as it was this year. No Big East teams made this way-too-early 2009 Top 25 and with good reason. The Bearcats will be hard-pressed to repeat their success. Pittsburgh lost all it's momentum with the Sun Bowl debacle AND it lost LeSean McCoy. West Virginia steps into the post-Pat White world. Rutgers and UConn still have work to do. Louisville is primed to take our place as the official bottom-feeder of the conference. If anyone has momentum in the off-season it's USF who had a nice bowl win and the impending return of George Selvie and Matt Grothe to look forward to. But everyone now knows better than to trust the Bulls before October.
There's 3, maybe 4 conference wins for the taking in 2009. The Orange get West Virginia, Cincy, USF and Rutgers at home. I don't think any SU fan would complain if the Orange found a way to split those four. Couple that with a win over Akron, Minnesota. Louisville and the TBD opponent and you've got your six.
Reason #5 - The Orange Lucked Out On Their Coordinators
Before this season at Michigan, Scott Shafer was a superstar-in-the-making as a defensive coodinator. He worked wonders at Western Michigan. Parlayed that into a sweet gig at Stanford and was a part of the Cardinal upset of USC that year. Then he jumped at the golden goose opportunity to coach at Michigan. That worked out in a not-so-well way that didn't work out at all. i.e. Michigan's defense was pretty crappy. Shafer was suddenly out of a job and sullied by the experience.
Here's the thing though, the 2008 Michigan season was all about RichRod. All about his schemes, his influence, the desire his players had (or didn't have) to play for him. And clearly, there were problems. Mitch Browning wasn't required to sign a contract forbidding him from speaking about his time at SU when he left. Scott Shafer was. And even then, it was hard to disguise the simple truth that Scott Shafer was not allowed to do what he wanted to do at UM. The entire experience was one that Shafter seems ready, willing and able to walk away from.
So, Syracuse snatched up one of the hottest defensive coordinators in the country. A guy who called his own shot a year ago. A guy who is a job or two away from being a head coach himself. A guy with a gigantic chip on his shoulder to prove himself all over again. A guy who is walking into a situation where he can mold a young group of players into whatever schemes or styles he wants and they'll do it cause they're so sick of losing. Just like him.
Giddy the f*** up.
Then there's the offense. Here's a crazy notion...Syracuse plays six games a season inside of a dome with an artificial turf surface. Why has no one come up with the idea to turn SU into a spread-offense track-team before? Was it just too obvious? Why wouldn't you take advantage of your #1 weapon...the Dome itself?
Finally, that's what Rob Spence and Doug Marrone are going to do. And right off the bat, they're in good shape to do it. The wide receiver corp is going to be somewhat solid. Mike Williams on one side, Donte Davis on the other. Marcus Sales in the slot. Antwan Bailey/Delone Carter in the flat. I will take that and run with it. Literally.
Of course the QB is a big question mark. Dantley has the arm for it but he's wishy-washy otherwise. Andrew Robinson is...well, I have no idea what's going on with him. David Legree seems tailor-made for this offense on paper but we haven't seen him play.
If nothing else, it gives us an automatic leg-up in the tape room before we play Minnesota. What tape can they watch from last season to prepare them? The Orange need every advantage they can get and this would be a nice one.
Could the Orange go 3-9 next season again? Absolutely. Maybe it'll take a year or two for the team to really put it together and get the players they need. But this has all the makings of one of those frisky seasons where SU is picked to finish at the bottom, everyone stops paying attention and then all of a sudden they look up and the Orange are 4-3. Long time before we'll know but it's nice to have hope.