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Syracuse football: That March feeling in the dead of fall

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Despite four losses in eight games, there seems to be a measurable shift in the perception of Syracuse football locally and even nationally.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Some 48 hours after the Syracuse Orange stunned Clemson at the Carrier Dome that Friday, October 13, I was still devouring just about everything I could read on the game. The usuals online: some of the still-standing newspapers and everything in between—I wanted to get every possible morsel out of that win, out of this new-look Syracuse Orange football program.

“New look,” that’s kind of funny, isn’t it? Yes, Dino Babers is only in year two on the Hill, but he was the same guy who coached Syracuse in its loss to Middle Tennessee. The same guy in charge for last year’s four-win season. And the players are mostly the same as before, too.

But Zaire Franklin was right in his Players Tribune piece, there is just something different around here now. Something new.

Not only do I want to read and watch as much coverage as possible, for the last couple of weeks there has actually been as much coverage available as I can handle.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Even with that gut-punch at Miami, the game where SU set football back seemingly to pre-Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe days in that ugly first half. There still is a definite afterglow; a shine on Syracuse in days since upsetting the No. 2-ranked Tigers.

It’s kind of like Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange making a long run in the tournament. All of a sudden little SU is on a national stage and people, experts, who don’t watch one second of a game, who wouldn’t know how to get to the Dome if they were standing at the Sheraton, are talking and writing like experts on all things Syracuse. When that happens, Orange fans can experience a weird combo of pride and selfishness.

Oh, man, PTI is about to have Boeheim on, yes!”

Pfftt…Dan Patrick just said Syracuse can’t win playing zone defense. Like that guy knows about our team?

With SU football this past two weeks, it has felt like the build up to a Final Four appearance. You know that week leading up to the semifinal games? That time when there are nets to be cut after the Elite Eight, there are pep rallies to attend and flights to the big city where the last four teams playing college hoops that season will all converge. It’s one big-ass celebration.

In small bizarre way, that’s what it still feels like with SU football.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing Babers on Mike & Mike and hearing him chat with Paul (PAWWWLL) Finebaum is just... it’s freaking strange. Hearing announcers compliment Syracuse in the fall? Not making jokes about when basketball starts? Seeing someone actually give a Top-25 vote to SU? I mean, shit...

This isn’t to say that Syracuse is on the highest level. It’s not in the same sky as Alabama, much less on the Tide’s radar. SU this season, and likely for the foreseeable future, won’t end up in the mix for a playoff spot.

Hell, the Orange went from 4-4 to 4-8 the last two seasons!

That could happen again, I suppose. Florida State isn’t exactly “Florida State,” but winning in Tallahassee isn’t an easy thing to do, no matter what issues plague Jimbo Fisher’s team. And there’s a weird trip to Louisville ahead that could produce a single-game record for most combined points scored. Those games could still end up in losses for Babers and company, and Boston College is looking like it sort of knows how to football and Wake Forest is sneaky.

But I actually think SU could win one or even both of the road games. And pinch me, but I think Syracuse should beat BC and Wake. If health isn’t a factor and if Babers isn’t poached mid-season by some Big Boy program, then, hell yes, the Orange should finish up the year with a minimum of six or seven victories. It should absolutely be playing in some type of bowl game, be it Pinstripe or Camping World or the MyPillow/MeUndies Bowl.

That’s not to say the season is a bust if all of that doesn’t happen, though. Syracuse has already beaten the second-ranked team in the land. It’s already getting national love, not national ambivalence. It’s already done something that I wasn’t sure was possible anymore: it’s given hope for the future.

In the aftermath, in those hazy Saturday, October 14 morning hours, while trying to discern what I just watched the night before, it started to crystalize a little. As I checked website after website (like this one), game recap after game recap, I realized that I didn’t even know just how badly I wanted SU football to be good or at least marginally relevant again.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Syracuse vs North Carolina Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the same for the tourney: Yes, Syracuse is typically involved, but it’s kind of easy to forget that the Orange is playing to get to that last weekend. And when the Orange crash that semifinal party, it seems unexpected because losing in the Sweet 16 or the second round or even the Elite Eight (all respectable) can kind of numb your senses just a little.

For the last, what, two decades, our senses have all become dulled by watching loss after loss. Syracuse was technically involved in college football, but it was easy to forget that fact.

Now, though, there is hope in Babers and his staff, players seemingly buying in, making this last couple of weeks feel that almost anything can happen. Not like a basketball “championship on a Monday night in early April” anything can happen, but more like “Syracuse football can play and compete with just about any team” anything can happen.

And in so many ways, that’s like winning it all for Orange fans.