Pop quiz: When has giving up 76 points ever been a good sign for a college football team?
I’m too lazy to actually figure out if that’s anything more than a rhetorical question, but the answer as far as I’m concerned is...once.
The Syracuse Orange scored 61 points on Saturday, which is something they hadn’t done since 2002 (63 points vs. Rhode Island) and hadn’t done against an FBS team since 2000 (63 points vs. Buffalo).
As you well know, that 61 points wasn’t good enough because their opponents, the Pittsburgh Panthers, scored 76 points en route to victory in the highest-scoring game in FBS history.
That notable fact will probably be overblown in the years to come. We’ll forget that it had less to do with being a competitive game and more to do with it being a fourth-quarter free-for-all. But still, you don’t see two football teams put up 137 points all that often. I suppose you don’t see it...ever. Until now.
And sure, if you want to gripe about the fact that our defense gave up 76 points, that’s something you can do. It’s the same defense that gave up 62 to Louisville, 50 to Notre Dame, 54 to Clemson, and 45 to both South Florida and Florida State. They gave up more points than any defense in the history of Syracuse football. A dubious legacy indeed.
But if you admit to yourself that you always knew this team was destined to go 4-8, and they were, then it really doesn’t matter if they gave up 30 points or 70 points each game. Fight it as you might, this season was never about the results. And it certainly was never about the defense.
This season was about testing the Death Star that our offense could potentially become. It was about letting the rebels try to figure out where our weaknesses are and then figuring out how to prevent them from exploiting them in the future. Dino Babers’ system is far from fully operational, and we knew that was always going to be the case, but we saw enough to know the power we are dealing with here is immeasurable.
So if the price of that potential is that we get to witness the Syracuse Orange, a storied program built on option football and running backs, put up 61 points in a losing effort this time, so friggin’ be it.
Not to mention that it was a Syracuse vs. Pitt game we’re talking about. The most boring and uninteresting 50+ year rivalry in all of college football.
Do you know what the average score of a Syracuse - Pitt game was before this one? 20-19. To find the last time both teams score in excess of 25 points in this game you’d have to go back to 2004. After that, 1998. This is a rivalry built on ugly, low-scoring, uninteresting football.
And now, just maybe, we’re about to usher in an era in which both teams try to out 75-yard-touchdown-pass each other and the first one to 75 points wins. It’s unlikely next year’s contest will reach the same scoring heights, but it’s possible we could see both teams score into the 40s. And if by some chance Syracuse catches up in the wins department, this annual snoozefest might actually become must-see TV. Who knows, we might even develop actual feelings about this rivalry...
So whine all you like about the porous defense and how the Orange looked week-to-week in 2016. That’s small thinking if you ask me. Syracuse football has, for better or worse, always required big picture thinking. It’s up to the head coach to lay out their plan and then prove to us that they can succeed with it. Some do. Most don’t. One season in, Dino Babers has given us enough “belief without evidence” to warrant a rosy outlook for the future. Now it’s on him to recruit players to make his offense work better, seal up his defense, and win a couple more games every year from here on out.
No promises, but I just saw a 61-point performance that looked promising.