Yes, it really IS Syracuse basketball season now, football is done.
The eternal question that is sometimes asked even before the end of the first quarter of the first game of the season in football, has its answer. Jim Boeheim and company are unofficially officially back, and the fans can turn their frustration with losses in football into their
frustration joy for hoops being back.
Sure, there are three more games left in the 2014 football season, but I think it's obvious this Syracuse team isn't winning out. Not when it can't even beat beatable N.C. State at home. That L to the Wolfpack was the fork slammed into Otto's back when it comes to expectations meeting reality (read Sean's column now if you haven't). No bowl berths around here this season.
Which can trigger some bad thoughts for Orange fans. Anyone who remembers the pre-Coach Mac era probably shivers at the thought of another losing season. How about those stagnant years under Paul Pasqualoni? And all I have to do is write the name Greg...or GREG...and I know you're freaking out, flashing back to 3-9 Syracuse football seasons. There are really so many examples of bowl-less years that it makes you wonder why we're all so masochistic to continually follow this program.
And like any other troubling time from our past, we try to lock it up and run away from it. Another loss on the gridiron for fans to endure? LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, I'M OVER HERE WATCHING HOOPS!
Basketball is here, yes, and it's something else, something more consistently easier on the eyes, to watch. But there is a lot left to discuss when it comes to football. Even if it's painful to do so.
Most importantly of which: is this a one-year drop? A little like the dive of 2011 that saw a five-win Syracuse team lose its final five games and just miss out on a bowl trip. The next season, Doug Marrone led his team back, finishing with eight victories -- 2011 becoming an aberration. A bowl win last year bookended with at least another bowl trip in 2015 would go a long way toward calming fans' nerves.
Or, on that other hand over there, is this something else entirely? Not a blip in the progression of the program, but rather an indictment on the coaching staff, on the direction of it all?
I mean, SU will likely end up with a measly three wins this season. And no matter how you slice it, three wins in twelve games is bottom-of-the-barrel bad. Plus, this season has already seen its share of strange: nearly losing to FCS Villanova, that whole demoting-George-McDonald thing and losing to N.C. State just to name a few of the oddities. In just a few weeks, that Texas Bowl win might feel like it was in another life.
(Regarding McDonald: If he bolts, like expected, how many recruits, if any, will follow him elsewhere? I questioned the timing of the demotion and it certainly seemed, at the time anyway, that McDonald was ready to blowtorch any and all bridges. His skipping town could be devastating in terms of recruiting.)
We're not talking about the end of Shafer as Syracuse Coach, but we can at least consider thinking about broaching the subject, maybe.
Listen, if 2014 yields nine defeats for Syracuse (trademarked by Greg Robinson, by the way), it'll be a tough swallow for fans if 2015 gets off to a shaky start. Even though this current collection of Orange men is full of youth and is dealing with significant injuries all across the board -- including the offensive line being more M.A.S.H. unit than mashing unit. The pressure is always on coaches, that may go double for Shafer at some point next season if things continue to head south.
It's not like the ACC is going to get any easier. Florida State isn't going anywhere, and the same goes for Clemson and for Louisville. Duke is stable and Pitt always seems like a sleeping giant. Is Shafer the guy to get Syracuse up another level? I think so, I just don't know so and this season isn't helping.
Still, all of it, the losing, the drama, even the injuries, actually makes the next three games and the subsequent off-season proceedings like signing day all the more important for the future, for Shafer's reign. Even if a lot of fans have moved on to basketball-y pastures. If SU loses out but shows well, losing a couple of gut-punchers even? Moral victories may not count on the stat sheet, but they leave an impression to anyone paying attention or for anyone who will eventually pay attention again.
And if for some reason(s) the wheels do fall off this team? A couple of no-show blowouts? If the off-season brings more drama with McDonald's leaving and possibly his recruits following? Hmm...They're all worst-case scenarios, but all possibilities.
Now, I get fans don't want to be there, again, wondering if the man in charge is the wrong person. They've all been there so many times. We're not there. We're really not. But one Texas Bowl trophy does not cast a large enough shadow to cover up a three-win season for too long. 3-9? That's tough to justify, injuries, youth, or otherwise. The next few weeks, the next 12 months, are huge for Shafer, because basketball season can only distract the fans for so long.