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Syracuse at the 5-2 crossroads: will the Orange finish the job this time around?

It doesn’t seem possible given the last, oh, decade and a half, but Syracuse has recently been in a similar position that it finds itself now.

North Carolina v Syracuse
A bowl berth is in reach
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Picture it: the Syracuse Orange, fresh off a big win, with five more games to play, five more opportunities to nail down one more victory. Holding a 5-2 record and getting ever so close to drinking from the middling world of college football’s holy grail: a bowl berth. Plenty of potential practically dead ahead.

Of course, part of looking down the road for Syracuse is having a good understanding of what’s in the rear-view mirror. Because, while it might not seem like it given all of the losing over the many years, the Orange has actually been in this spot recently.

The scenario from above was the reality in 2011, the last time an SU football team earned five victories in its first seven games.

It was different then, way back when people spent more time communicating on social media than talking to each other in real life. iPhones and the like were all the rage. A period when everyone argued about everything. Times were different. (I’m sure glad we’ve come so far.) It was also then when a back-from-the-dead Syracuse, fresh off a Pinstripe Bowl victory the previous December, was thisclose from being ranked in the top 25. The achievement of relevancy was near in ‘11. Technically it was Oct. 21 when the Orange seemingly made a statement by beating down No. 11 West Virginia, 49-23.

Syracuse, with what appeared to be a solid head coach, and athletes on both sides of the ball, was ready for its close up. Or so it appeared.

Syracuse v USC Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

All of these years later, we all know how that season ended. In a thud. Kaplooey.

The Orange would go on to lose the remaining five games on the schedule and finish out with a 5-7 record. Adding to the misery, Syracuse didn’t really even keep close with the competition over the following month, losing each contest by an average of nearly 15 points. The one nail-bitter was a seven-point defeat at Connecticut.

That goes-south-quickly ending is likely always somewhere in the cranium of Orange fans. Just last season Syracuse beat Clemson, earning its fourth W of the year in the process, and then lost out. There is a mental trap door where the bottom could fall out at any minute. It’s a real fear just about every year.

There’s a PTSD situation here: Post Traumatic Syracuse Disorder.

Clemson v Syracuse
A rare sight: joyous Orange fans
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

You could see the affliction in the faces of the folks who stuck it out to the end last Saturday in the Carrier Dome. Not when things were going badly. No, it was in the faces of the people who stayed even though it looked like the Orange was about to lose what might have been the closest thing to the last Dome gimmie. Those long-tortured souls experienced the pure and unadulterated joy of relief. The masses practically saying in unison, “I can’t believe we almost lost! I can’t believe we won!”

For some, being down by seven to North Carolina in the fourth quarter, with the Tar Heels having the ball and a chance at putting that final nail in the coffin, flashbacks were likely hard to fight off.

Think of the similarities to that last 5-2 team.

Syracuse’s head coach was Marrone, who at the time was 17-15 overall and was working football miracles. Regardless of his “powers,” the talk of paying Marrone or watching him leave was starting to pick up. Juxtaposition that with Dino Babers, the man who replaced the man who replaced a saint, who holds a 13-18 record in central New York and is looking more saintly by the moment. No one thought Marrone was close to bouncing for the National Football League, but it seemed clear he knew his football. Babers, meanwhile, is the subject of scrutiny among some in the fan base at Syracuse, but he too knows his football, and his style might soon be coveted by others.

Those two separate seasons are also connected by how each team got to the five-win threshold. In ‘11, SU beat somewhat forgettables Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Toledo and Tulane. The big beat down of West Virginia was the lone pelt to hang. So far in ‘18, Syracuse’s “best” win was probably its close loss at Clemson.

Furthermore, the 2011 Syracuse Orange had quarterback Ryan Nassib leading the show. The then junior was firmly entrenched as a team leader. Someone who put up big-for-Syracuse numbers in season and for his career. In many ways, as Nassib went so too did Syracuse.

Syracuse football 2018 had a reasonable facsimile in terms of Eric Dungey. Sure, Dungey is more legs than arm at times, but he has been, when healthy, a fixture. Over the last few years, the Orange similarly live and die with Dungey.

That is until 5:07 left in the fourth quarter last Saturday. Redshirt freshman sensation (Touchdown!) Tommy DeVito saved the day in leading the comeback against the Tar Heels. A certain defeat turned inside out.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

So who knows, maybe that substitution not only salvaged a win, maybe it salvaged the season? Quite possibly that one move, as significant as it was in the moment—and it was—it might have been even more important on a macro level. A reversal of mojo.

That type of moment never materialized in 2011. Although, for as tough as it was to watch, that season is ultimately sandwiched between two bowl wins. Fans point to the very short era as one of the few bright spots in the last twenty or so years. Hell, after Greg Robinson, no one would think of 2011’s 5-7 season as a true disaster. In fact, some fans reading this might not even remember that the Orange frittered away the last seven weeks of that season.

How will 2018 be remembered?

This Syracuse team could still be special.

This Syracuse team could still disappoint.

And with either result, unlike Marrone’s ‘11 team, here’s betting fans won’t soon forget. That’s one more big difference. Marrone’s 2010 built up a decent amount of fan equity for the ugly way the following season ended. Babers has made himself a name, but he hasn’t yet finished the job completely.

There is plenty of time for that, obviously. Time to build good memories. Or, as we all know, time to add to the mental scar tissue.

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