Once the dust settled on the latest Syracuse Orange football loss, I got to putting some initial notes together on Twitter, which then got me considering the blame game going around this fan base. Radiohead’s “Just” also popped into my head, and the chorus seemed very applicable to the current state of things here:
“You do it to yourself, you do. And that’s what really hurts is you do it to yourself, just you. You and no-one else. You do it to yourself.”
Who’s “you” in this situation? Well, it’s everyone.
Dino Babers: Told you to believe, and got you to do so maybe even before a surprising 10-3 season that he was happy to parlay into a big extension, fan goodwill and record season ticket sales increases. I saw him this offseason at an alumni event here in Los Angeles, and he rightfully had some confidence about the job he’d done thus far. That confidence found its way into the fan base, the team and even national media. This was a ship that couldn’t sink, and Dino didn’t necessarily start throwing any water on that idea until the fact was already apparent. That’s human nature, but it still factors in here.
Tommy DeVito: The quarterback who was once illustrated on a throne before setting foot on campus, and spent portions of the offseason leaning into Jersey Shore memes. He’s courted attention to some extent, and he had every right to do so coming into the season. The offensive line woes aren’t his fault, but a failure to stand and deliver in the pocket is, as are the mental errors.
Offensive Line: The microscope’s on you from day one as the potential weak link for this attack, and it gets worse each week. This blame extends to Mike Cavanaugh, too, as he’s done nothing to adjust this group’s deficiencies at all and apparently didn’t help development along enough over the offseason. Despite dwindling returns, we’re not putting in different players to combat fatigue and pressure while a former four-star tackle like Qadir White just sits.
Syracuse fans: Last year was what happens when nearly everything goes right, and we knew it was a 7- or 8-win team that overperformed in the win column in part due to a struggling ACC around it. And yet, despite losing three starting offensive linemen, two linebackers and a generational quarterback in Eric Dungey, we all still told ourselves this group could just reload like a blueblood. We’re not a blueblood, if you weren’t aware. A regression was natural and we weren’t “back” just yet when we went 10-3 in 2018. That was step one to getting “back,” but fans are mad because it now seems like they were sold a bill of false goods even if they were the ones peddling them. It’s made worse by the fact that it’s the offense struggling when it’s Babers’s specialty.
We just wanted the struggles to end after two decades, and last season seemed like the sign we’d been waiting for, so we jumped at it and wouldn’t let go of the idea.
Syracuse media: And in particular, those of us at TNIAAM and I’ll put myself at the top of that list. After serving as wet-blanket-in-chief for years, the excitement of last year felt like we were now entering a pay-off for all the suffering. I predicted we’d go 9-3 and fed into the potential for more. Even caveats about “well we could go 7-5 and still be a better team” were half-assed ways to just play both sides. We were happy to gas up the program and throw on some orange-colored glasses for an offseason because it was fun to have everyone talking about the team in a positive way.
That’s not negligence or even ignoring journalistic responsibility. It’s natural to feed into that hype when the results are a) what you wanted, b) growing the site readership and c) Babers and co. didn’t seem to be indicating any reasons to doubt success — which we’ll define by winning at least six or seven games — in 2019. Still, we’re definitely guilty of helping push expectations to overly positive and optimistic levels.
Now with all of that out of the way, we can sort of hit restart on how we’re talking about this season, right? (and maybe with a bit more rationality and civility toward one another, please)
Syracuse is a team that’s been recruiting at a top-55 level and used the speed of its offensive scheme to make up for that talent gap in the ACC. Dino Babers is a very good coach who benefited from being able to plug an experienced and electrifying playmaker into said scheme right away, lessening the ramp up to what the offense could be. He’s upgraded the talent level at several areas, but not all. He made a bad hire for an offensive line coach that had some warning signs coming in. That hire is a big part of why this season’s been a bit of a wreck.
While we were incredibly lucky with injuries last season, we haven’t been this season, suffering them at spots we could least afford: offensive line, defensive tackle, secondary, and most recently, quarterback. SU’s talent level is pretty solid at the top of the depth chart, save on the O-line and maybe linebacker. But once you get past the top line, the questions start pretty quickly. So it makes sense why things have shaken out the way they have.
This year is going to fall WELL short of the unreasonable expectations applied in preseason, and that was sort of predetermined due to all the reasons spelled out above. It’s also very possible it falls short of what the reasonable expectation was for this season: six or seven wins and a sense of continued progress from last year. That part’s worth getting concerned and annoyed about. That’s the part that Dino needs to address both on and off the field over the final five games.
We can’t change what happens to Syracuse for the rest of this season. But we can change how we deal with it and how we apply that to our feelings on the direction of the program and Babers’s job performance. No one’s free of blame for why this season feels like it’s on the verge of imploding. But we’ve seen implosions before, haven’t we? If anything, we’re among the most experienced group in the country at getting through them and coming out better on the other side.