There was never an expectation that we’d understand all there was to know about the 2019 Syracuse Orange football team through five weeks. Between top-ranked Clemson, two Group of Five opponents and FCS-level Holy Cross on the schedule (plus Maryland), the first five games were more likely to just set the stage for what came next.
Except, they haven’t — at least to any real extent.
In game one, Syracuse shut out Liberty... but the offense looked like it had to shake some rust off.
In game two, the Orange were run off the field by Maryland... but with a young quarterback and a potential look-ahead spot there was (and remains) a chance it was a perfect storm.
Game three saw Syracuse hang around against the No. 1 team in the country... before collapsing and squandering numerous opportunities to even take the lead in the third quarter.
In game four, SU won by 19 over WMU... but the defense looked shoddy. BUT the defense was also missing key pieces. BUUUUT the Broncos also lost key pieces on offense.
And in game five, Syracuse beat Holy Cross by a score of 41-3... but it was also the dumbest blowout win in school history, the offense only had a handful of drives where they really looked on their game, and it was an FCS opponent.
Caveats are not unique to Syracuse football. Sports are random and football is among the most random of all given its limited sample size. College football extrapolates that randomness even further by introducing 18-22 year olds to that chaos. And for the Orange this year, everything’s further clouded by expectations.
Because surveying the SU fan base and external opinions about the team at current, that seems to be the biggest issue of all: Syracuse is falling short. They don’t look like the top-25 team they were at the beginning of the year. The offense doesn’t look up to par. The defense isn’t as strong as we expected.
We’re guilty of it here, of course. And I wouldn’t remove myself or any of the other TNIAAM writers from that, either. While we knew that the offensive line could be a work in progress, we didn’t expect Sam Heckel’s injury, and didn’t expect the younger players to struggle like they had. We were aware that Tommy DeVito needed some time to get acclimated as the starting quarterback, but probably figured he was a bit more polished than what we’ve seen at his worst moments this year.
The lack of conformity to what we expected has just made all of the uncertainty about what we’ve seen so far worse, and made this among the most puzzling Syracuse seasons to-date (for now, anyway). Most SU fans probably expected to be 4-1 at this point, and instead we’re 3-2. That difference doesn’t seem like a whole lot on paper, but the gulf feels like a mile right now for fans desperate to see the Orange “back” and thought it was already the case following last year.
Whether it’s true or not in 2019 could largely come down to what happens in weeks seven through nine. NC State, Pitt and Florida State present fair measuring sticks for what this season can be, and success or failure against those foes should yield more insights about what Syracuse really is than anything we’ve seen through the first month. That’s frustrating for fans that have sat through five weeks of Jekyll-and-Hyde football already, sure. And I’ll admit, it’s fair to be frustrated since that specific aspect didn’t seem to be in the cards going into this year.
Yet, it should also show some hope for what happens as the rest of this season sorts itself out. It’s been weird so far. It could get weirder. But there’s also a chance Syracuse has been biding its time to some extent, ready to bring a fully healthy and sorted out squad into the remainder of ACC play with an eye on a second straight postseason trip.
For now, I won’t jump to conclusions. It’s worth having faith until we’re shown reasons not to. Maybe you’ve seen a few of those. We’ve also seen plenty of things to make us believe in, too. Either way, should be an interesting final seven games.