Hopelessness is mostly a mindset in sports. Anything can happen at any time, but extended periods of struggle and/or losing wears on fan bases and teams alike. You lose too much, and everyone around a team — especially at the college level — starts to think that’s just how it’s going to be.
It’s hopelessness, of course. As a Syracuse Orange fan, you’ve certainly felt it before — most of the GERG era, the end of the Shafer era, and now, it’s creeping into the Dino Babers era here in year five. The key, as always, is making sure that feeling is temporary for your fans (and players).
Take Robinson’s tenure, for example. After allowing hopelessness to arrive swiftly in year one, a 3-2 start in 2006 (and a close loss vs. Iowa) removed the feeling... only to invite it right back by year’s end. The following season made hopelessness feel permanent and that’s why fans were all the way out on him by the time he was fired in 2008.
For Doug Marrone, hopelessness never really settled in. Maybe at points in year one, but admittedly, it was a competitive season. Even during the five-game losing streak in 2011, the team was still a play or two from a bowl game.
Under Scott Shafer, hopelessness and hopefulness traded places frequently for two years before hopelessness took over by the end of year three.
For Babers, early upsets over Virginia Tech (2016) and Clemson (2017) staved off hopelessness during dueling 4-8 seasons. And then 2018’s 10-3 record ushered in perhaps too much hope. Last year’s struggles made us feel hopeless again, even if a thrilling finale helped potentially wipe the slate clean. But now Babers’s squad is once again creating hopeless feelings, and there’s no clear way out of it given the injuries suffered this year and the fact that we’re almost two years removed from the last meaningful Orange win.
There are ways around succumbing to it, though. We saw the potential for it on Saturday, even in an 24-point loss to Wake Forest. Babers finally replaced a struggling Rex Culpepper with JaCobian Morgan, and the true freshman QB proceeded to go 7-for-7 for 57 yards and a score. He looked sharp and composed. And while of course that was against Wake’s second-team, it at least provided something we haven’t had much of this year: Hope. Or the promise of an unknown quantity around Syracuse football.
Yet, Babers seemed content to throw cold water on that idea in his post-game comments anyway...
Babers on freshman QB JaCobian Morgan's late TD drive: "I wouldn't put too much stock in that. That's the end of the game. We're running out the clock on ourselves. ... That's like throwing 7 on 7. That's not like a real football game."— Stephen Bailey (@Stephen_Bailey1) October 31, 2020
Again, a good portion of the fan base completely understands the caveats around the stage in the game and a lack of tape on Morgan. But we already know what we’re getting from Rex at this point, and it’s proven to be inconsistent and downright detrimental to winning in the second half of the last two games. Morgan’s play may very well prove out the same — but we don’t KNOW that yet.
The promise of what he can be, and the hope it potentially provides a fan base and team, is valuable enough that a coach shouldn’t necessarily dismiss it. In a rough fifth year (yes, even with the caveats around this season), Dino can use all the favors he can get. Why deny this one a moment when it’s one of the handful of positive things to glean from an otherwise miserable loss?
While I understand Babers’s responsibility to temper expectations — and it’s fair to stop the hype train from going too far down the track given this fan base’s tendencies — now’s not the time.
Really, after letting Rex play for almost the entirety of another game he struggled in, you don’t really have any reason to stick with the redshirt senior anymore. Even if Morgan doesn’t have a handle on the entire playbook, can we honestly say Culpepper does right now? If Dino puts Rex out there to start next week’s game vs. Boston College (or any subsequent game this year), he’s actively ignoring the hope and faith he’s pushing fans to have — as recently as a couple weeks ago — and opting for the dreaded hopelessness no coach can truly afford to let sink in.
Dino’s back next year, as we know, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for what’s occurred in 2020 (again, despite the obvious caveats). Hopelessness can only be entertained for so long without a coach inspiring faith once more. Even if it’s just installing a new QB and trying something different on offense, it’s imperative that it looks like Babers is willing to think differently. Inspire some hope that the current struggles are temporary. Show that even if we’re not at the end of the struggle yet, that you have a reasonable idea for the way out of this rut.