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Syracuse having Clemson on the ropes may only be the start

This is what an actual rebuild looks like.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Spending my entire Saturday in a labor and delivery room had me thinking quite a bit about the future.

And before you ask me why on earth I’m writing about this game while my wife gives birth to our first child (the #disloyalinfant, for now), know that I’m doing so while she’s asleep as we await our daughter’s arrival. We got here on Saturday morning, so I got to watch the full game. Again, I’m a fully grown adult, I swear, and on top of that my wife was actually happy we got to watch the game.

But back to the Syracuse Orange: It’s still tough to stomach how SU lost the a game they led by 10 with a quarter to play, even against the No. 2 Clemson Tigers. Still, impending fatherhood has given me a better perspective to look at what’s ahead.

We know Syracuse beat Clemson last year, sure. But any one-off upset can potentially be written off as a fluke. We didn’t think beating the Tigers last year was random, and this year certainly proved that. SU has outplayed Clemson in seven of the last eight quarters the teams have played one another. When the talent gap’s as wide as it looks on paper, the only way that happens is a result of coaching. In the Orange’s case, that obviously comes from Dino Babers and the miraculous turnaround he’s engineered so far at SU.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Think about the Scott Shafer era, where we needed to grasp at straws for moral victories in 10-point losses to sleepwalking Clemson and LSU teams. The Doug Marrone era, for as much as we enjoyed it, had only fleeting moments of being “back” largely limited to a couple bowl games and assorted wins over schools that had batted us around during the GERG era (and this isn’t to dismiss the impact of #SaintDoug on the Syracuse program at all).

But with Dino, he’s following the ideal rebuild script: Lose big in year one, lose close in year two, win close in year three, win big in year four.

Now, he’s interspersed some of those steps with milestone victories. And perhaps “win close” this year is not exactly the right characterization. However, Dino’s still moved this team in an upward fashion quickly and efficiently. Syracuse HAD CLEMSON ON THE ROPES at Memorial Stadium. No, they didn’t land the knockout punch, but you won’t always — in fact, few teams can do so every time. The fact that Syracuse was in position to this early in year three tells me all I need to know about the job Dino’s done so far.

And the best part? The job’s far from finished, too. This is a 4-1 Orange squad that could easily be 5-0 and has a hell of a lot more wins potentially on the schedule. It’s a group that has performed at a higher level than star ratings indicate, and has shot past expectations across the board.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not grasping at moral victories because this was a loss. But the fact that it feels like one is probably the biggest progress of all. We had Clemson on the ropes and almost won. That’s still an L, but it’s also proof that this program’s done exactly what Dino wanted for it — and what we wanted for it.

For the first time in a long time, Syracuse is in position to land the knockout punch on a national stage and have it actually mean something. Not national titles or conference championships. But an elite squad, and a potential top-25 ranking? The ability to scare any foe into thinking they’ll lose? These are all new feelings for Orange fans. And they’ll be growing more over the coming weeks.

I’m excited to greet them, and excited to welcome a daughter into a world where Syracuse is once again a football program to be reckoned with.