Back in February when newly-hired head football coach Dino Babers kept repeating his mantra that Syracuse Orange fans needed to have faith (“belief without evidence”), my first thought was ‘yeah, good luck with that.’
Syracuse fans don’t do faith. We don’t have patience. Both of those things were stretched to their limits in the waning days of the Coach P Era and dissipated altogether during the Greg Robinson Era. Since then we’ve made due thanks to a couple good seasons courtesy of Doug Marrone but the truth is that Orange fans are sick and tired of settling for mediocrity (or worse) and have been ready for The Next Great Era of Syracuse Football to begin for over a decade now.
So I was not surprised to see the negative reactions from SU’s 62-28 loss to Louisville last weekend. It didn’t surprise me to hear boos reign down in the Dome early on when SU seemed completely overmatched. And the 32K attendance, while even lower than I expected, also made sense given what we know about the fanbase.
We’re the same fanbase that stopped showing up to SU Basketball games during Jim Boeheim’s suspension. As I said at the time, “we are results-oriented and we need to see those results before we decide its worth showing up.”
Any perceived lack of support has less to do with Babers himself and more to do with the fact that we’re just over it.
And yet, all of that said, if we want to be able to appreciate the fruits of this football’s team’s labor, we’re probably going to have to suck it up and deal with a pretty rough 2016 season regardless.
The offseason in which we spent claiming USF, UConn, Wake, BC, and NC State were “sure wins” was sure folly. Right now in this moment, maybe one of those games is a “sure win” and the rest are up for debate. The fact that so many Orange fans considered this Saturday’s game against the Bulls an easy win means we’re either delusional (possible) or unwilling to accept the fact that this program fell back down to the bottom in the waning days of the Scott Shafer Era. #IStandWithShafer? Well you do so in the ACC basement.
The point being that this season, as much as we might fight it, is about rebuilding the whole damn thing from the ground up again. The Syracuse offense has a lot of great pieces but it’s going to take time to make it work against a talented FBS defense. The Syracuse defense, well, we might just need to ride it out until reinforcements arrive, especially if the secondary loses anyone else.
Yes, when Dino came to Eastern Illinois he immediately took them from 2-9 to 7-5. But his first Bowling Green team took a step back from 10-4 to 8-6. In both instances, it was the second season when everything really gelled (12-2/10-3). Not to mention, he didn’t have to face a schedule like Syracuse’s in either of those cases.
Bud Poliquin even sees it. The Syracuse.com columnist wrote today about how there are no “important” games in 2016 for the Orange because that implies this season is about a short-term result, which it isn’t.
This doesn't amount to a concession speech. Not two weeks into September. Rather, it's an acknowledgement that Babers' Orange — with its skivvies-on-fire attack (that has produced 61 points in two starts in a building constructed for offense) and its what-the-devil-was-that? defense (that allowed the Cardinals to score eight touchdowns, plus two field goals, last week) — amounts to a serious work in progress.
First of all, why didn’t I think of “skivvies-on-fire” first? Second of all, what Poliquin is getting at is that if Syracuse ever wants to return to the glory days of the 80s and 90s, it has to put in the work first. We’re not like Florida or Michigan or USC where one bad season is just a bridge to the next 10-win year. Building success at SU requires years of work and smart planning. It means scheduling games that make sense (for once). It means installing strategies that help the program succeed in a world full of teams with more talent. It means dealing with setbacks along the way. And it means faith and patience.
Granted, there’s only so much of that any college football fan has to give. And once we become convinced your plan isn’t working, we’re on to the next. But for now, if we trust in what Dino Babers is trying to accomplish, and all evidence so far seems to indicate he’s on the right track, we don’t have a choice but to grin and bear it. Or at least curse on Twitter and bear it.
In theory, it will be worth it.