My brain: “You write for a Syracuse athletics-based website, we should be cranking out content!”
Also my brain: “I’ve got nothing.”
The last time Syracuse was sitting at 4-0 in football, I wasn’t writing much. In fact, I was probably wearing some kind of early-90s bright-blue knockoff “Hammer pants,” whipping my friends with a slap bracelet, and talking too much in the fourth grade.
“Yeah, I’m listening to C&C Music Factory with my portable CD player, no big deal!”
This all then should be manna from Heaven: a little nostalgia mixed with what should be unbridled enthusiasm for the faithful.
But here we are, with me writing and deleting, and writing and deleting some more. I’m at a brain word-block, totally unsure of what to make of the Syracuse Orange in 2018.
Which is both exciting and probably unnerving for a lot of fans.
It’s like, even though Syracuse is putting up 50-plus points just about every week, the offense bogs itself down at different, sometimes strange spots. On one drive it can look like Syracuse could find the endzone on a 400-yard field. Then the next drive(s), the Orange can go three-and-out quicker than the time it takes to fire off a snarky tweet. It could be that Dino Babers hasn’t yet punched the pedal down and opened the engine up. Or it could be that the offense sometimes runs too quickly for its own good.
Then there’s the defense, which was a house of fire (that’s an expression, right? I feel like people say, “he’s a house of fire!”) against Florida State but has given up some really big plays to opponents. The D allowed Western Michigan to get way too close back in game one. And while no one thought Connecticut had a chance last weekend, the Huskies did take advantage of some obvious, and old, SU weaknesses. That’s Connecticut with Randy “I don’t know what Communism means but I’ll still use the word at inappropriate times!” Edsall as head coach, by the way.
The flip side, however, is a sunny side. Syracuse has plenty of advantages compared to recent incarnations. For example, there is real depth on the depth chart for the first time in a long time. And SU does have stars, or emerging stars, on both sides of the ball. Oh, and Eric Dungey, one of the brightest stars, is still upright and is still one of the most dynamic players in the college game. So long as he’s healthy (a phrase that should probably be printed on his jersey right before his surname), Dungey can swing a game Syracuse’s way on his talent alone.
Another positive is that the ACC has mostly regressed to the mediocre. The conference was once thought to be potentially loaded at the start of the season. Now? Not so much. Honestly, if Babers can’t get his team to six wins this year, then there might be some real issues. What with Louisville, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami all suffering head-scratching or head-banging losses, and teams like Pitt and North Carolina struggling to find themselves, the ACC looks to be Clemson and then everyone else way down the ladder.
Ah, those Tigers, the number two or number three team in America depending on which top-25 alter you genuflect at. A playoff regular. The power of the ACC. They are dealing with their fair share of drama this week, with quarterback Kelly Bryant deciding he’s going to transfer out after being demoted for Trevor Lawrence. It was Bryant who was roughed up by Syracuse front seven last season before exiting the loss at the Dome early due to injury. Lawrence, meanwhile, has lived up to his highly-touted recruiting reputation, having thrown four TD passes just last Saturday at Georgia Tech. In other words, there is some restlessness in Clemson, but don’t expect those issues to matter come noon Saturday.
I also don’t totally know what to make of this game between the Orange and the Tigers. The easy take is that this one will be ugly from Jump Street. That a respectable loss would be the best-case scenario. Some sharps in Vegas have the line as high as 24 points now. That’s with the understanding that SU hasn’t lost and that it actually did beat the Tigers fair and square in the Dome last October.
My mind, has gone back to that unbelievable Friday night in the sweat box in Syracuse. Everything had to go perfectly for the Orange and it just about did. However, SU also played to potential and won because, for one night, for about four hours, it was better than Clemson. This time around, they’ll be playing down in Death Valley, in front of a raucous crowd wearing a different shade of orange. A tall task. But if Syracuse is better than it has been, and if it can piggyback off of the last meeting, well, can it shock the world again?
Sure, the Tigers are still the kings, and Syracuse is forever trying to work its way up from being a pawn. And getting “back” is something that no one completely understands because “back” has morphed into multiple meanings over many long years.
But the Orange do stand at 4-0 and are receiving votes in the polls, and have a 98-percent freaking chance to make a bowl game. That’s not normal. Something is up. There’s a real vibe that SU is close to doing something of consequence. That this season will, could, or should develop into a big deal. As John wrote Sunday, at some point very soon there will be a chance to “leap” to the next level up. For Syracuse to remove itself from the bottom-feeder status. This team sincerely has that look about it.
Maybe we’ll find out more on Saturday? Maybe. That could be when Syracuse goes from forgotten to top ten just like that. SNAP. My gut says no. That’s just not believable. And my head, it’s requesting more time, at least a couple of games, before truly understanding what we have with Syracuse football in 2018.