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Syracuse football: Being ‘back’ is not that simple

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Looking at Saturday’s action once again reminds us how difficult it is to find consistent success in this sport.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When I said “there was never a script for this,” I was more referring to the fans and media (self included) than the Syracuse Orange players and coaches. Yet, it occurred to me in the middle of the football team’s 24-0 win over the Liberty Flames that it probably should’ve extended to all of them too.

With a top-25 ranking going into the season, we were sold on the idea that the program is “back” after a long slumber. And while that may very well be the case, there’s still a lot more to it than that.

On Saturday night, Syracuse appeared discombobulated on offense from the jump, and rarely looked like last year’s group throughout the full game. That could’ve been by design, so I won’t necessarily dissect the play-calling or anything like that. Dino Babers likes to call vanilla games against early, lesser opponents and this contest was no different. But that doesn’t necessarily explain why Tommy DeVito was frequently overthrowing receivers, routes were botched left and right, and the team wasn’t really generating much on the ground until well into the second half.

Sure, Liberty isn’t an FCS bodybag the likes of Wagner. But they shouldn’t have the talent to generate as much pressure as they did, and disrupt a Syracuse offense that is designed to test your limits. Offensive line struggles and passing game deficiencies seem less like products of a plain game plan than some potential warning signs for what could use a bit more work as the season progresses. They’re also keys to keeping this team among the top 25 in the nation or not.

That’s the extra wrinkle for the players and coaches that we may have discounted. These players saw success last year, but they’ve never been top-25 teams to start the year with a target on their back. Dino Babers has been a very successful head coach, but has also never started the year with a top-25 ranking at the FBS level, and the pressure that comes with that. It doesn’t mean they can’t rise to the occasion. It just means it’s new. And anything new can take some adjustments.

So when we’re all clamoring for Syracuse to be “back,” all of that is worth taking into account. This is a very good squad, yes. It’s also a squad that’s recruiting outside of the top-50 level over the last five years, that’s replacing a lot on the offensive line and has to make up a lot of production from a record-setting quarterback.

We were all pretty high on what this season could look like, and though that still could happen, 2019 may also necessitate a potentially larger step back before a bigger step forward in 2020. Does that mean 5-7? No, probably not. Could it mean 7-5 and an offense that doesn’t necessarily look like what we watched last year? Yeah, that could certainly be the case.

And even if not, and we live up to the top-25 expectations, that won’t be so simple or easy. Getting to this point wasn’t either, if you recall. I’m willing to afford them the time to be “back” before declaring it so. For now, at least, that might be the best approach to enjoying this season for whatever it turns out being.