Syracuse just got eliminated from a bowl game. Since they beat Clemson, Orange are 0-4 w their last two losses coming by a combined 67 points.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) November 19, 2017
Losing four-straight games after pulling off a world-shaking upset is the kind of thing that stands out, but as a Syracuse fan, there was also something about it that felt eerily familiar.With that, I headed to the modern oracle of Wikipedia to look up the 2011 Syracuse Football season to confirm what I was thinking. What I realized is that Dino Babers’ second season and Doug Marrone’s third season have some striking parallels.
Let me tell you about a football season. The team in question comes into the year with a lot of potential but middling expectations. If they can simply get to a bowl game, any bowl game, it's a good season. The first half of the year lands them a decent record. It includes mostly wins they were supposed to win and losses they were supposed to lose. Then, a nationally ranked powerhouse comes to their stadium and no one expects anything other than a blowout. Except, they pull off the monumental upset and all of a sudden everything seems possible. Now, a bowl game is a foregone conclusion and fans start dreaming of even bigger things. Then the floor drops out beneath them. The team loses their next game. And their next game. And their next game. And before you know it, they've squandered all that goodwill and everything falls apart when they miss a bowl game altogether. While they might match preseason expectations, in the end, that's irrelevant given the potential for more which fans witnessed on the field.
Sounds a lot like 2017, right? Syracuse started out 3-3. The MTSU loss sucked but they played LSU tough on the road and showed a lot of heart. The Clemson win will go down as one of the biggest in program history. And everything that's happened since will be remembered for much more disappointing reasons, especially now that we're going to miss a bowl game.
Well, it also sounds a lot like the 2011 season. Syracuse charged out of the gate with a 4-2 record. They won a bunch of tough games, got very lucky against Toledo with a phantom field goal, and then felt the karmic retribution when they lost to Rutgers by a field goal the following week. No. 11 West Virginia came to the Dome expecting an easy win and the Orange shocked the 'Neers, 37-34. All of a sudden the team was 5-2 and visions of a Big East title danced in our heads. Marrone's squad promptly lost five-straight to end the year 5-7.
I remember the frustration that Orange fans had that season. We were coming off a surprise eight-win year and Pinstripe Bowl victory. We felt like the program was about to take off and bowl games would once again become the norm. Instead, we watched in disbelief as the program regressed the further the season went along. We openly started wondering Marrone was going to be able to put it together like we thought he would. The future was in flux.
However, the lessons of 2011 led to the success of 2012. While not a perfect season by any stretch, the follow-up saw SU earn another eight victories and another Pinstripe Bowl win. It was the season we thought we were going to get a year before. But for whatever reason, the cake still needed to bake.
I've written a lot in the past about patience and how Syracuse Football fans have run out of it. We've spent the better part of the last two decades watching the program sputter and start, sputter and start, sputter and start. Our frustrations mount with every losing season, especially those that come off of expectations of something better. So I don't begrudge any Orange fan for feeling disappointed in the 2017 season.
My hope, and I think yours as well, is that 2017's problems beget 2018's success. I still have a lot of faith in Dino Babers. He's succeeded everywhere he's been and I think he'll right the ship, to whatever extent he can, here as well. But I think Syracuse is a football program that makes it hard for coaches to find success right off the bat. Babers walked into a rebuilding process and needed to remake the entire program in his image. While we've seen other football programs do that in two years, sometimes less, there are variables in place that make Babers' pursuit of success a bit harder to come by. That doesn't excuse poor performances and questionable in-game decisions, but it does inform the big picture.
The 2017 season will end next week and no matter what happens we'll take a lot of frustrations into the offseason with us. If we lose, that's a third-consecutive 4-8 season for the program. If we win, it comes too late and makes many of our previous performances that much more disappointing. But if you're looking for a silver lining, some form of hope to carry you forward, just keep reminding yourself about 2011 and what happened in 2012. There are no guarantees, but there's always hope.