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Syracuse football: There was never a script for this

The last 10 or 11 months have been weird, gang.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

When TNIAAM was founded back in 2006, it was year two of what would be a miserable Syracuse Orange football stretch under GERG. Sean covered the team well, and like he wanted it to succeed, despite the mounting evidence that it very much could not.

Things got more positive during the Doug Marrone era, but success was still fleeting. The highs were high and the lows managed to be reasonably low too. For as much as the era was fun given what we’d been through, it still produced just a 25-25 record with its fair share of incredibly dumb wins (and losses) that took years off of most of our lives.

Under Scott Shafer, the energy was there at first, though the results weren’t. The coverage turned as the coaching staff’s results turned south and relationship with the media turned sour. When Dino Babers came along, we were optimistic, as always. But we were still — as was the case since 2006 — covering the team in a way that talked about what could be.

Welp, now what do we do now that we’re here, coming off a 10-win season and staring Orange Bowl projections right in the face? Honestly, it hasn’t been the easiest adjustment on this end, as a fan or as a writer.

Yes, I’ve always been on the pessimistic side, but even so, there’s been hope in there for Syracuse football, the team I root harder for than any I follow. I don’t want to say I never expected us to get back to this level of success, but... the odds seemed stacked against us, no? Every year we’d gone into things saying “why not us?” Well, WHY NOT, at this juncture? We’re potentially a Clemson win away from a real shot at the College Football Playoff. We sort of were last year too.

That still feels weird to say, as a fan who followed SU as a kid, but whose Syracuse football fan experience has largely been defined by over a decade a mediocrity. We spent a lot of time believing without evidence and hoping for the unlikely, as most fans do. Now that we have it, you’ll hopefully forgive me for being a little confused as to how to watch, root for and cover this team in the same way I have for the last decade-plus.

Because there honestly isn’t a script for this.

Not for TNIAAM. And not for the 10-win season, the top-25 ranking, the potential Orange Bowl expectations, constant coverage about us on a national scale, level of attention, and amount of positivity being lobbed our way over much of the last year now. Before, we were the pluckiest blog covering the at times pluckiest (but mostly disappointing) team, and I was arguably the most hopelessly realistic face of that endeavor. But I largely got to toil in silence, save to the many of you who’ve been around this whole time.

In some ways, it’s easier to write about negative results either positively or negatively. But a whole different task to write about positive things positively (or with some constructive criticism) without sounding like a cheerleading hack. It’s a challenge I’ve been trying to figure out since arguably last October. It’s one that’s going to get even more difficult this year.

The 2019 season brings the weight of expectations. For the Syracuse football team, most of all, of course. But for us at TNIAAM and for Orange fans (both those at the Dome and at home), too. There’s an entire generation of college football fans who have no idea what it’s like to see Syracuse projected to be good before Labor Day. Should it deliver on that potential promise, this 2019 squad has the chance to hit a complete reset on everything we know about the sport, what recruits think about us, and who knows what else.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There’s excitement there, sure. But also fear, too. What if this doesn’t work out the way we think? Earlier today, we all took a swing at picking how the Orange would finish, and everyone netted out around 8-4 or 9-3... something wildly unthinkable not 10 or 11 months ago. Is Syracuse “back?” A down ACC and an easy schedule make it tougher to tell on paper. Still, a down ACC and easy schedule make it more feasible to GET back, even if we aren’t just yet.

I don’t know what this season will bring. No one does. But as challenging as it may be for my nature (and yours), I’m going to try and enjoy every second of this run. Hopefully it’s not over by the time we get to late November, and maybe it even continues on into 2020. As fans, we’ve never really known what we’re doing, and that seems to go double here. I have faith and evidence, and belief and anything else I could need to be fully on board. Still, despite consuming more about Orange football than most normal humans in recent years, I’m incredibly anxious looking over this ledge at the 2019 campaign — more so than I have ever been.

Is this normal? Are we okay with this? As uncomfortable as it may seem at the moment, I’ll cautiously say yes. Now ask me how I feel again in two weeks or so, if I haven’t passed out by then, of course.