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Syracuse’s season will be defined by what happens next, not what’s occurred

Syracuse has looked rough around the edges so far, but it’s addressable.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, the last two weeks have been tough for any Syracuse Orange football fan, this one included.

Against Maryland, Syracuse had a golden opportunity to collect a win, get College Gameday and bring with it a ton of program momentum. They didn’t, obviously, losing 63-20 while reminding us of just how special last season really was.

This week, against Clemson, we hadn’t necessarily deluded ourselves into thinking this Syracuse team would upset THIS Tigers team in advance. Yet, they hung around admirably in the first half, and were knocking on the door of making it a one-score game in the third quarter before cruel fate slapped us down once more. SU lost by 35, but the margin doesn’t much matter. We’ll be reminded of what could’ve been, but more realistically, what wasn’t and won’t be due to the loss.

At 1-2, this is not how most saw Syracuse’s season going. Lucky for most (and us), there are still nine games remaining in the 2019 season. Those 9-3 predictions? A little more farfetched now, but still very much on the table provided improvement keeps coming (as it did this Saturday). An Orange Bowl bid? Seems crazy, but yeah, that’s still out there too.

When Scott Shafer was coaching for his job in 2015, his team started 3-0 and he wanted everyone to remember that it was the first such start in 24 years for Syracuse. Lost in context was the fact that it was basically SU’s easiest first three games in 24 years, and the program had scheduled itself into the ground for a quarter century. That Orange squad wouldn’t win another game until the final week, after it was already announced that Shafer would be let go.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Many of us could just as easily get fooled into thinking pretty negatively, sitting at 1-2 through three games. That’s the headline, yes, and it is the most factual aspect of things right now. This Orange team has plenty to work on, and hasn’t looked great for the last two weeks. I could go on, but you know the flaws because you’ve seen them.

But it’s also insane to take a three-game sample against two new coaches in two road environments, plus a game against the top-ranked team in the country as anything more than an unfortunate stretch for the time being. Tommy DeVito’s looked rough. Did we think he was going to be an all-pro right away? The circumstances were made even tougher still by Sam Heckel’s injury which threw an already rebuilding offensive line into disarray.

These are not excuses. Far from them. They’re simply context into how 1-2 happened this year. They have minimal effect on what happens from this point on.

Because as mentioned, the W-L record in those first few games don’t tell the whole story. We saw it in 2015. We may see it again in 2019. From here on out, Syracuse basically faces a bunch of toss-ups, plus two more likely wins these next two weeks (Western Michigan, Holy Cross). Assuming — please! — we’re 3-2 going into the first bye week, is that really THAT different from what you were expecting? Or what we all should’ve expected given what Syracuse lost this offseason?

On that topic, we may not have given Eric Dungey enough credit when he was the team’s starting quarterback, and I’ll be the first to admit some fault there. His inability to stick to a script was both a blessing and a curse, but one with far more positive traits overall when it comes to this program and its ability to rebuild under Dino Babers. We had many of the flaws you see this year in 2018 as well. Syracuse just had a more experienced playmaker under center to help cover them up.

Times like what we’re currently experiencing are what happens when those flaws, and the Orange’s lack of elite talent when compared to a program like Clemson, become more apparent. We don’t have a Dungey to cover it up. DeVito is talented, but also has room to grow into his role. This is typical of non-elite programs. We’re not elite, if you haven’t been paying attention.

So for as much as this game sucked, and the last two weeks have been a test of our collective mettle (believe me, I’ve been taken back to the depths of what this fandom can do to you quicker than I thought possible), we have to view the start to this season in a vacuum.

Some of the issues we’ve witnessed so far may stick around. Far more of them probably won’t, though maybe new ones arise, too. And whatever record Syracuse winds up with, that won’t necessarily be because of what’s happened here in late August/early September, but what occurs the rest of the way and how the team responds to some adversity.

After years of struggle, this group tasted success last year, and now has to learn how to get back there. They did it once. They can do it again. And the schedule is certainly there to make it happen this time around. SU just needs to view the last nine games for what they are: A new season, and a renewed chance at meeting expectations for what they’re capable of this year. Not one name left on this slate is without its flaws. The Orange just need to make sure they start ironing out their own from this point forward.

And if Syracuse wins 6, 7, 8 or 9 games in the regular season, we’ll just look back on this blip as part of the story of how they made a second straight bowl game.