Given how poorly most of us usually fare projecting Syracuse Orange football win-loss records before they happen, I’ll admit it’s tough to really get a read on the sort of season ahead of us going in.
As we’ve seen many times, we think we know what our offensive line looks like until we don’t. The quarterback situation seems cut-and-dry until it doesn’t. A running back emerges. A linebacker doesn’t. The coaching goes off the rails. Injuries mount at an alarming pace.
For a program that doesn’t bring in much elite talent each year, there are just too many variables and too little consistency over the last two decades to try and accurately peg what a given season will look and feel like in August.
With this in mind, we come to the end of week five for Syracuse football during the 2021 season. SU’s frustratingly 3-2 or surprisingly 3-2 depending on your point of view. And while I still won’t claim to know exactly where things are headed from a win-loss perspective for this squad, I’ll tell you what type of season we’re going to be looking at.
Yup, it’s one of those seasons.
What exactly do I mean by that?
Doug Marrone may not have been the pioneer of these sorts of campaigns (‘sup, Coach P), but he’s our most recent reference point for these types of seasons and the decidedly exhausting games within them. That doesn’t mean they’re all bad. But they’ll be unquestionably stressful win or lose. We don’t do anything particularly excellently, nor will we do anything so poorly that we need to blow the whole thing up (though the passing game could challenge that assumption).
No, these sorts of seasons are just “dumb” for lack of a better word. It’s not a knock on the players or coaches, or us as fans. It’s just to say that every game within theses sorts of seasons creates its own stages of grief win or lose. You don’t feel great about what happened, but you also never feel bad enough to suspend hope. You’ve signed up for stress every Saturday (or Friday night, in some cases), and you just have to accept that fact.
We haven’t had one of these seasons in some time, I’ll admit. The Dino Babers years have been equal parts joyous and ugly. The Shafer years were a slog. You’re going back to Marrone’s tenure to really find these sorts of seasons, and one could argue he had four of them in as many tries.
The near-misses, close wins, questionable decisions and frustrating mistakes. The presence of hope and the sudden evaporation of it. Those teams, no matter how “good” or “bad” all managed some phenomenally lucky and unlucky breaks that probably took years off of many of our lives. But they battled and kept things interesting no matter what the win total was at the end of the year.
As you read the paragraph above, you’re likely nodding, cringing at aspects of the 2009-12 seasons, smiling at others and then thinking about Saturday’s 33-30 loss to Florida State. It was Syracuse’s second straight game decided by a last-second field goal, though they wound up on the losing end of that equation this time around. It was infuriating to see how it happened, sure. You could also debate that Syracuse could’ve just as easily won or lost this contest by 10 points.
Going into September, I have to admit, I didn’t really see this sort of season coming.
With Babers and his staff definitively on the hot seat in most fans’ minds for 2021, it seemed like risks would lead to higher highs and lower lows, but not necessarily a product in the middle. We’d define the year by whether Babers saved his job, and that would be that. I was willing to bank on it even after a week two loss to Rutgers, on the negative side of the coin.
Since then, we’ve seen just how good this defense is and seemingly will continue be. But also the team’s distinct offensive issues, Sean Tucker’s excellence and the... Garrett Shrader of it all, for lack of any other way to describe our once-future, now-present quarterback situation.
Shrader, it winds up, is the variable I couldn’t account for even a few weeks ago. And we still may not be able to get a handle on what he brings to the table for Syracuse at this point, which is precisely why we’re headed for one of these seasons.
You saw it throughout the loss to Florida State. For every lame duck throw and questionable run decision, there was an electrifying sprint or a ball that found the right receiver at the right time. This sounds a bit like the Eric Dungey experience, much to the delight of many Orange fans, I’d bet. And while that’s a fun game to play, I’d caution that the top-level returns seem unlikely to reach the same heights, while the lows could go decidedly lower.
That’s not a knock on the quarterback, as much as a realistic assessment of what this team is: Flawed, interesting, tough, questionable, and a lot more adjectives you can pick out of the air. Is this good? Do we want one of these seasons?
Given what we’ve witnessed for most of the last decade of Syracuse football, I’d say I’ll take it, even if I’m even more exhausted as a result. Just when we go 5-7 with a win over Clemson or 7-5 with a 13-7 loss to BC, don’t say you weren’t warned.