Last year around this time, the Syracuse Orange football team was 5-2, coming off a throttling of nationally-ranked West Virginia and in the hunt for the Big East title. We figured, at the very least, this team could win 1-2 more games and get us back to a bowl game for the second-straight year.
We were wrong. So very, very wrong.
Here in 2012, the Orange were left for dead a couple weeks ago at 2-4. The season, which began with such promise, already seemed over. Any hope revived by the Pitt win was extinguished by the Rutgers loss. And while the impending stretch against UConn and USF seemed winnable, we doubted this team would get out of its own way long enough to do it. 4-8, or even 3-9, here we come.
Two weeks later, we're 4-4 and all of a sudden there is talk of getting back to six wins and going bowling. It's no guarantee but it's hope nonetheless. For a program like Syracuse, a crappy bowl game is still justification that this season was a success and that we're heading in the right direction. All we need to do is win two out of the next four games and we're there.
Hell, if we can beat a Cincinnati Bearcats team that looks better on paper than they actually are, then all we'll need to do is win one of the final three games. A final home tilt against the Louisville Cardinals, a tough road game against the Missouri Tigers and a could-go-either-way road game against the Temple Owls to finish the season. Not breezy but certainly possible.
And that's what's so terrifying for Syracuse football fans.
Because if you're like me, you're daring yourself to assume that we can and will beat Cincinnati. With an SOS of 120, it would be embarrassing for them NOT to be at least 6-2. They're an over-hyped team headed in the wrong direction. Yes, it's a road game but we got that first road win out of the way last week. It's old hat now.
The funny thing is, beating Cincinnati would only scare Syracuse fans more. Because it would get us back to five wins. The same spot we got to last year before it all went to hell.
We'd spend all of next week at 5-4 with that ominous thought niggling at us in the back of our minds.
"Louisville's undefeated, Missouri's better than they're record and Temple wants blood. We're gonna lose out all over again, aren't we?"
And if we were to finish 5-7 again on the heels of a multi-game losing streak...I don't know about you but I don't think I could bear it. Not with the emotional rollercoaster that this entire season has already been. From "The Best 0-2 Team In The Nation" to "Good God, What Is Wrong With These Guys?" to "Oh My God, Are We Actually Doing This?" The coaster has already dipped, rolled and climbed so many times, a gut-wrenching losing streak to kill our bowl chances and a little piece of our souls just seems like too cruel a fate. Even for a Syracuse football fan.
I'm not saying I don't want to beat Cincy. I do. I really do. I'm just afraid of that old, familiar feeling creeping back in. A Louisville loss followed by denials, a Missouri loss followed by anger and finally a Temple loss followed by acceptance.
The truly scary thing is that, after Cincinnati, the most-likely scenario is that it will indeed come down to the Temple game. That we'll enter the final game of the season 5-6, again, and the weight of that pressure will collapse us all.
Halloween? That ain't scary. The thought of going 5-7 again? I think I just wet my pants.