College football’s not the most fun sport to follow if you’re just paying attention to what’s occurring up at the top. The same handful of teams always win, and with few exceptions, always have. It’s the common refrain levied by critics each and every season as they try to convince diehards that it’s not worth rooting for anyone but bluebloods.
But as a fan of a non-blueblood, you quickly find there’s much more to take in within the margins of college football. We know Alabama will be good, and same goes for Clemson lately, and Oklahoma, and Ohio State and a few others.
Hidden beyond those names each season, however, are more fun stories, and the reasons everyone watches. It’s the random 9-3 season by a long-downtrodden program. Or the team that made a bowl for the first time in a decade. Or the group of seniors who finally put it all together in year four after suffering through some turbulent seasons before that.
That last one probably sounds familiar to Syracuse Orange fans given what we’re looking at right now from our own team. The No. 19 Orange are 7-2 (!!!) and after a bevy of losses from teams in front of us on Saturday, could very well leap into the top 15 when the College Football Playoff Rankings come out. Coach Dino Babers didn’t recruit a bunch of the big-name contributors at the top of the depth chart for this SU squad, but he’s obviously an enormous part of how they’ve been able to turn things around this season. As you know, it’s been five years since Syracuse was bowl-bound. They’ll be on their way to the postseason this December, too.
That narrative is a fun spectacle in itself. And you could see how college football fans — Orange partisans or otherwise — could find it intriguing. But there are a bunch of those types of stories every year. They’re “special” in a silo before everyone moves on. Syracuse has been in that situation once in the last decade, too: the 2012 team that was senior-laden but scheduled into the ground yet still finished 8-5. It was cool for us, but did anyone really pay attention to the fact that we were a top-40 club, co-Big East champs and beat the team (Louisville) that won the Sugar Bowl that year?
That team, as much as we enjoyed that season, was the run-of-the-mill “unique” season. This 2018 campaign has the chance to be truly SPECIAL, and potentially program-changing if Syracuse can take advantage. In 2012, the spoils were squandered pretty quickly. This time, there’s a chance to swing college football’s random pendulum in our direction. AND there’s a chance we can keep it there afterward.
The pendulum idea is one I thought about this offseason a little. Every year, you look at the final rankings and there are always a couple random “really, you guys?” teams that pepper the top 25. Last year, it was UCF and I guess Northwestern. The year before, Western Michigan and Colorado. In 2015, Houston and North Carolina took the honors.
At the time of the initial thought, I was fixated on the fact that everyone (every non-blueblood) seems to get SOME shot at it in recent years, even if for a season. So why not this Syracuse team? I had no idea what was to come, and I didn’t even think it was necessarily realistic. But I was definitely wondering if this could be the season where the Orange’s number came up in the random generator of college football results. Everyone has to get lucky once, right?
Well, here we are now, at 7-2. And after a pretty convincing 41-24 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, it’s hard to avoid the obvious thoughts that a ranked Syracuse team went on the road and did exactly what a ranked team should: take care of business. That (any of it) is not something we’re necessarily used to. But it’s a page that teams usually turn when they’re going from occasionally great to consistently good, to paraphrase one Dino Babers.
That “consistently good” idea could become “consistently great” this season if they keep up the current pace. I’m still adding the caveat of all caveats that a Fiesta/Peach Bowl bid is a fantasy, yet even an 8- or 9-win Syracuse team at the end of the year still bucks every norm we know. Beyond just this year’s win total, though, there’s an opportunity to parlay that into more long-term success at a higher level than most recent-ish grads are even aware of. It’s something we sure as hell didn’t take advantage of last time around. Though maybe 2012 wasn’t really THIS. After all, THIS is a team that is very likely in the top 12 or so heading into the Notre Dame game (provided they beat a very bad Louisville team, of course).
Whatever cliche you want to use — stars aligning, number coming up, pendulum swinging — is fine. No matter the turn of phrase, Syracuse is experiencing “it.” But how it goes from a random moment to the norm for this program is another step entirely. This, the breakout season, is step one. From here, there’s not only an exciting next few weeks ahead but a tangible and optimistic future out on the horizon, too. I can’t wait for that potential payoff. But I’ll be enjoying everything in the lead-up just the same.