Syracuse Orange football is better of than it was four years ago. We know this, having witnessed first-hand the evolution from devolution.
But try telling that to non-Syracuse fans.
In year four of Doug Marone, the Orange stands a game below .500, and are looking at another bowl-less winter. The non-believer asks things like, "Well, are you going to beat South Florida or Temple?" Then they laugh at the answer, "Well, maybe. If things break right." Giggling that the program still can't guarantee a win against the likes of the Bulls or the Owls.
But Orange fans get it. They see the bigger picture. It's a difficult thing to understand, but it may be best summed up by, of all things, golf. Whether you are a scratch golfer or a weekend hacker, or even someone who just likes to watch on TV, there is this inexplicable allure to golf.
If you have the means, I recommend grabbing the clubs, meeting some friends, getting beers, and playing a round. You may suck, as hitting a tiny ball with a big stick can prove to be the most difficult part of your day, week, or month. But at some point out there on the course, something clicks. It's an euphoric moment, gone before you truly capture it. In so many ways, it's the very definition of why anyone golfs -- the one perfect shot.
A brilliant swing, the loud thwack of club center meeting ball, and the look of the ball sailing to exactly where you prayed, but had no real belief, it would go. That's what brings most people back to golf. Sure, you may shoot in the triple digits with a lot of 10s on your scorecard because you lost count of how many times you hit the ball, but as soon as you're in the clubhouse, you're thoughts go right to that one hole, that one hit. That's golf, it just takes one.
Sound familiar? SU fans know a BCS title game is not in the future, distant or far. SU fans know games at Temple or South Florida, while winnable, are not gimmies. So, why bother? Because, fans know that one good shot -- that moment making it all worth it -- will happen.
And it did, Friday, with a crushing of the Connecticut Huskies and Paul Pasqualoni.That's what's in the front of the brain now for them. Not the 3-4 record, not the slim odds of a bowl game, just thoughts of how fun being an SU fan can actually be. Sometimes.
Actually, until Marrone came on board and affirmed himself as, at least until now, the Man, being a Syracuse supporter was torture. It still remains a form of sadomasochism, just the version that offers slightly less pain (our Safe Word is Otto, by the way). For years, an SU fan was the equivalent of that guy standing in the rough, a couple hundred yards from the green, sweating from the blazing sun thinking, "Why am I here?"
Then, it happens. A little piece of perfection, the ball arcing beautifully toward the flag or those big plays making your hair stand in route to a 30 point victory. All is right with the world.
Marrone's given the fan base a chance to expect, or at least hope for, that great shot. Most Orange fans thought their team would beat Connecticut at the Dome, most hoped it would be the game where everything came together and the team would put on a clinic, and then it did. 40 - 10, all SU, all the time. The equivalent to that one perfect shot on out the course.
It's painfully obvious Syracuse isn't "back" or has it truly "righted the ship." Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers all gave us proof of that. In fact, right now, it may be more difficult to explain why you're a Syracuse football fan than ever. People felt sympathy for Orange fans during the Greg Robinson reign, but now they question why you still support a below average program.
Tough to answer. To explain to the non-believer why you put yourself through nerve-frying losses. Actually, it's a near impossible task. Defing a feeling, that feeling of watching the Orange dominate on all sides of the ball, uniformity in perfection. The outsider may see the four losses in seven games so far this season, but all SU fans see is the throttling of a Big East foe. That perfect shot that keeps them coming back, hoping it will always feel this good to be a Syracuse Orange fan.
As for South Florida; the demise of the Bulls has been
greatly slightly exaggerated. Yes, USF is a team that has lost five straight games. The Bulls have gone from possible Big East champs to total Big East chumps, again. South Florida head coach Skip "There Has To Be A Better Program Than Syracuse Where I Can Coach" Holtz is on the hot-seat, and the season seems right to go from disaster to Springfield Tire Fire. But I don't see it that way, not yet anyway.
Consider: In its last game out, at nationally ranked Louisville, the Bulls scored 16 fourth quarter points to take the lead with just over three minutes to play. Of course Teddy "Terry" Bridgewater engineered a game winning driver for the Cardinals, but the Bulls battled back and really should have won. And that's the season in a nutshell for South Florida: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Mistakes, miscues, and just boneheaded plays cost the Bulls at least four of its five losses. This is a team that still has a great deal of talent and, despite the suddenly over-passionate South Florida fan base, Holtz is a good coach. These Bulls could represent the most even opponent for Syracuse.
15th year senior BJ Daniels still has the ability to create something from nothing, and the Bulls defense showed something in clamping down on the Cards last week. I'm not trying to oversell South Florida, as its a team with major issues, but Syracuse has played teams like that this season (Hello, Minnesota) and lost.
It won't take a perfect-shot like game for Syracuse to win, but it will come down to the defense continuing to pressure and an offense continuing to finish drives -- preferably in the endzone, but at the very least with a field goal. SU showed it was a different team Friday against the Huskies, one with a definitive game plan on both sides of the ball -- finish.
As the Orange enter game eight of 2012, the question becomes, was last week a one time aberration, or will that be the team's calling card? If it's the former SU fans will have to settle for remembering the Connecticut game as the team isn't likely to create too many more good memories in 2012. If it's the later, the Orange will be that much closer to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.