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2010: How Syracuse Got Its Groove Back

I don't get the chance to compare Syracuse Athletics to Angela Bassett vehicles often so I'm going to make the most of it here.

2010 ends in a couple days. By the time it does, Syracuse fans will either be celebrating a Pinstripe Bowl victory or bemoaning a loss. Truth is, as much as a victory matters for momentum, motivation and recruiting, it really doesn't change what 2010 has meant to Syracuse Football. Or to a larger extent, what 2010 has meant to Syracuse Athletics.

If 2005 - 2009 were the events of LOST Seasons 1-4 wherein SU Athletics were the Losties, wreaking havoc on this world they did not understand, causing chaos to the island timeline and events, then 2010 was the course-correcting atomic bomb explosion that reset everyone, put things in place and set up the ultimate showdown between good and evil (Syracuse and Georgetown) that will take place in a few weeks on the hardwood.

It's easy to look back on that era as one of worst eras in Syracuse Football history, if not THE worst. But it's also fair to admit that,yes, Syracuse Basketball took a step back during that time as well. The post-NCAA Title malaise meant that between '05 and -08, Syracuse missed the NCAA Tournament twice and lost in the first round every other time. In '09 the team finally got back to the Sweet Sixteen but there was something wrong about how "new" it all felt. That the Orange were expected to fall back down to their "normal" level in 2010 showed just how out of the loop the program had become compared to the big boys (UNC, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas).

Instead, the 2009-2010 basketball season was the single-best Syracuse regular season in years. In 2010, the Orange reached heights though unthinkable just two years prior, spending most of the year in the top ten, reaching No. 1 in the nation, winning the Big East regular-season crown and earning a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They weren't able to cash in with a trip to the Final Four but this team might have done as much for the long-term stability of the program as the 2003 National Title team did.

With it's new-found place among the elites of the college basketball world again, this is a different program. The recruiting classes are better. Much better. The fans are excited about SU hoops in a way we haven't seen in a long time. The student section is as organized as its ever been. Boeheim shows no signs of slowing down and, even if he did, Fine, Hopkins and Murphy are as good a set of assistants as there are in this nation.

A Sweet Sixteen is no longer a once-every-couple-years event. It's a yearly given now, barring something crazy. Final Fours are back on the agenda, and not NIT ones. Even now, as the 2010 part of the '10-'11 season comes to a close, the Orange are once again making good on their talent, tradition and abilities with their second-straight undefeated non-conference run. You get the sense this is going to be an ongoing thing. And we'll look back on the 2010 Basketball team as the one that really kicked off this New Golden Era of Syracuse Basketball.

If Syracuse Basketball officially made the transition from good back to great, surely Syracuse Football could make the jump from abysmal to mediocre, right? And then some. The 2010 SU Football Season might just be the best 7-win season in the history of the program. Not so much for its specifics, but for what it means to the state of the program, the school and the future of both.

Syracuse Football is among the 15-winningest football programs of all-time but you'd never know that the way folks talked about for the last five years. Greg Robinson will go down as the worst hire in school history and it will be hard to top his "accomplishments." That made the job of Doug Marrone that much harder and that much more important. As Doug himself has said, he cannot fail in his quest to return the Orange to glory. He has no choice.

Thankfully, 2010 proved that he almost-certainly won't. In a year that began with questions about Marrone's over-reaching discipline and the possible loss of star player Delone Carter, the Orange resurrected themselves as a credible football team. Not only did they finish the regular season with a 7-5 record, ensuring the program's first winning-season since 2001, but they also won four Big East games, broke the schnide against WVU, USF and Cincy and even tiptoed briefly around the Top 25 rankings for a time. It wasn't until the final Big East game of the season that the Orange were out of the running for the conference crown.

The Orange play in their first bowl game since 2004 on Thursday and one suspects we won't have to wait another six years for the next one. The Orange have a schedule next season that is very doable and the Big East won't pass SU by. In fact, the Orange are rising at the perfect time. Whereas programs like Pitt, Cincy, USF and Rutgers are taking steps back or remaining stagnant, the Orange are rising back up into the thick of things along with Louisville and UConn. A Big East title is not a pipe dream. Nor is the idea of nine or ten-win seasons.

Simply put, Doug Marrone did what Greg Robinson only said he would do. He delivered on his promises. He continues to deliver as the Orange attract a higher-caliber of recruits and make national news with each victory and major moment. Syracuse Football isn't "back," whatever that means, but we're on the road back. And we're farther along than anyone expected us to be by now.

I don't know where SU Football will be in 2015 or even 2012 but something tells me that 2010 is the beginning of something big.

2010 wasn't just about the Big Two, of course. Syracuse saw it's place in The Director's Cup soar to unseen heights thanks to the growth of the womens and Olympic sports.

SU Women's Basketball continues to establish itself as a regularly-ranked program thanks to Coach Q.

SU Women's Lacrosse proved that it's Final Four run was no fluke and continues to find success under Gary Gait.

SU Women's Field Hockey is nationally-ranked.

SU Cross Country is a Big East Champion.

And there's much, much more success that I'm overlooking and forgetting.

Of course, the SU Men's Lacrosse team didn't have the amazing growth we've come to expect of them in 2010. In fact, they're one of the few programs who mis-stepped, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The days where SU makes it to the Final Four every year might be over but the program continues to be among the very elite of the sport. They enter the 2011 season as the preseason No. 1 team in the land. 2010 was less a step backwards than a reminder that the best college lacrosse program in the nation can never rest on its laurels. Expect them to use this year's disappointment to fuel them to greatness moving forward.

All-in-all, Syracuse fans can hardly complain about how 2010 turned out. Regardless of the Pinstripe Bowl outcome, the football season was the perfect cap on what has been a true renaissance for the program as a whole. A tip of the cap to DOCTOR Gross for steering the program in the right direction. If he gets the blame for hiring Greg Robinson, he has to get the credit for hiring Doug Marrone as well (with a nod to Floyd Little and the SU Search Committee).

It's been a while since Syracuse fans could proudly wear their colors every month of the year. In 2010, that was never an issue. Sometime tells me it won't be an issue for a while.