This post is part of a week-long series sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
I like me some Doug Marrone. I think that's obvious. I think he's tremendous from any standpoint. But the facts are facts. At the end of the day, nothing else matters but wins and losses. As Doug gets more of the former and less of the later, he will have officially "proven himself," whatever that means.
That's not to say this is a make-or-break year or anything like that. I think most sane Syracuse fans do not expect the Orange to find themselves lining up against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl after a 10-2 campaign and Big East title. No...that's next year (right, Doug???).
2010 is going to be a weird season. Syracuse might not have a very good record, but they might have a great year.
Slowly but surely, the team is losing all hints of Greg Robinson. Many of his players are gone, either via graduation or weeding out due to academics, infractions or "misunderstandings." There's still plenty of juniors and seniors who played in the GRE here, but sufficed to say they've been "Marrone'd, for lack of a better term.
The recruits know what they're getting into. Many of them aren't blue chippers or four-star guys but, let's be honest, those are just rankings some guy at a magazine came up with based on one or two game-tapes he's seen. (Not entirely true but not far off either). Good coaches win with what they got. My guess is that Marrone will do that to the best of his ability.
Will Syracuse go bowling in 2010? The odds are against it. Due to scheduling two FCS squads, we need to win seven games. That's something we haven't done since 2001. Plus we're coming off five-straight seasons where we've won no more than four games.
That said, the Orange intend to take a Mark McGwire attitude into 2010. They're not here to talk about the past. What happened in 2005 is irrelevant and quite frankly so is was happened in 2009. A 2009 season, I might add, that the Orange were a couple bad breaks away from finishing with a bowl appearance. And the truth is, the chance they'll do so in 2010 isn't as crazy as you might assume.
The aforementioned FCS games against Maine and Colgate are foregone wins (right???). We expect to win at Akron as well. We automatically assume that Syracuse will struggle in Big East play but, let's be honest, the Big East isn't exactly the juggernaut that the Big Ten or SEC is. Rutgers, Louisville and UConn are all beatable. The Orange have a tendency to play Pitt and West Virginia tough. USF and Cincy are both in transition years after losing their coaches and star QBs. As for season-ending match with Boston College, throw the records out in that one.
Now back to that whole "bad record, great year" thing. I know it's hard for Syracuse fans...hell, ANY fans to think long-term. But when you've spent what feels like an eternity at the bottom of the college football well, changes don't happen overnight. They can happen quickly...schools go from bottom-feeder to bowl squad in 2-3 years all the time. But the learning curve is different for everyone.
If Syracuse can show improvement with a 6-6 or even 5-7 record, it will move mountains for the program. We're already wrestling back control on New York State in terms of recruits and showing improvement will help expand our ability in the tri-state area. Not to mention nationally where it's vital to be a good program in order to convince a quality player from Florida to head north. From there, it's a snowball that catches fire.
Of course, that means 2011 has to be a bowl season. The pressure will officially be on Doug by that point, fairly or unfairly, to field a winning team. But until then, he's still got time to build and mold the program in his vision. 2010 Syracuse Football: The Moldening.
At the end of the day, the offense will dictate how well Syracuse does. I full expect the defense to improve even more so than they did in 2009. The D-line and LBs will again be solid and the DBs should be wiser, if not more-improved. Offensively, it's a toss-up. Nassib could go either way, Delone Carter is question mark and the wide receivers look like a good unit but lack a star play-maker. Coupled with Doug Marrone's first go at being the full-time play-caller, it should make for an interesting season to watch.
Hopeful Prediction: 7-5; appearance in The Beef Bowl.
Realistic Prediction: 5-7; in the right direction but a year away.
Honest Prediction: 6-6; so, so close and such a good sign of what's to come.