We (the Syracuse Orange and its fans) have been here before.
Not necessarily talking about the W-L record, but rather the moment we’re about to embark on. Syracuse is 4-0 on the season with quite a few winnable games left on the schedule. The rest of the ACC looks like a complete disaster aside from Clemson. These sorts of opportunities don’t come often for middle-to-lower tier Power Five programs.
I’m talking about making “the jump” — the moment when your program leaps past its station in life to the next rung or two above. Sometimes these transitions are temporary. Others, they’re a little more permanent. Programs have some ability to dictate “the jump” themselves, but many times, it comes to them.
So yes, we’ve been here before.
In 2012, Syracuse started the season with an excruciating 42-41 loss to Northwestern, and ended it with a dominating 38-14 win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. That SU team would go 8-5 on the year led by Doug Marrone and a group of strong seniors. We won a share of the Big East, upset eventual Sugar Bowl champ Louisville and played everybody tight in the program’s best season since 2001. But those same close losses prevented that team from achieving more that season. Even turning the tide on a 23-15 loss to Rutgers would’ve meant SU was Sugar Bowl-bound instead of the Cards that year.
In 2011, Syracuse walloped West Virginia at home on a Friday night and at 5-2 looked poised to maybe make the jump and win the Big East and contend for an Orange Bowl bid. They’d lose five straight, as you know. But we probably should’ve seen that coming after the infamous Toledo game.
The 2015 season started 3-0 and had a couple chances at making the jump. But tight losses to Clemson and LSU were more indicative of a potential talent gap and opponents sleeping on us than any large-scale improvement.
Last year could’ve potentially been what we were looking for, but we were on the wrong end of too many close games. MTSU, Florida State, Miami, NC State and LSU were all winnable, and even two of those five flipping to wins creates a much different narrative going into this season.
Even completing that jump last year, though, wouldn’t have created the opportunity we have in 2018.
According to Bill C.’s team profiles going into week 4, we stood a pretty good chance to win at least six games. That was before Wake Forest got smoked by Notre Dame. And before Boston College was blown out by Purdue. AND before Louisville looked awful against Virginia.
While Syracuse could’ve won six games last year, it wouldn’t have meant much in a top-heavy ACC. That was a team potentially creating the jump for themselves.
But this year? This is the perfect combination: the ACC has apparently taken a big step back, and Syracuse has seemed to take a big step forward. The jump appears to be coming to us AND we’re rising to the occasion. You look at Bill C.’s probabilities and seven or eight wins are now on the table in the regular season.
That’s not to say we hit those totals. If we’re not ready for the jump, then falling short at six is fine. We take the gradual build and get ready for the next step of progress in 2019. Dino Babers never promised a quick fix, and we shouldn’t have expected one.
Maybe more so than any season since 2012, though, the jump really is staring us in the face. And unlike 2012, where we picked up early losses to Northwestern, USC and Minnesota (thanks, DOCTOR Gross scheduling), we’re 4-0 here with a wide-open lane to more. That 8-5 finish in 2012 looks quaint compared to what can happen in 2018 if we play our cards right.
Some programs make the jump once a decade. Others, jump and then plateau on a lower rung (but a higher one than were they started). And more still jump once every 25 years or so, briefly inhabiting the national conversation before falling swiftly back to earth.
We don’t yet know which outcome this Syracuse team is capable of yet — and really, we won’t for awhile. But we have the opportunity, and for what it’s worth, I think we’re ready to leap.
That doesn’t mean beating Clemson next weekend, or going 10-2. But a top-25 ranking at some point, more national TV spots and being part of the week-to-week story of the 2018 season, instead of just being a flash in the pan? Yeah, the ACC’s practically begging us to if you look around the conference.