Here we are…Year 4 of the Doug Marrone era at Syracuse. The head football coach has had time to come in, change the culture, get his players in there and erase the stench that was left behind from the Greg Robinson era.
Marrone’s supporters will point to the following reasons as to why the Orange football team is still headed in the right direction:
- Marrone has accumulated 17 wins in three seasons, seven more wins than Robinson had in four seasons.
- Syracuse won its first bowl game since 2001 under Marrone’s watch.
- The Orange was 5-2 at one point last season.
- Marrone has made inroads on the recruiting trail to win back the recruiting battles in New York, especially in Central New York and New York City.
The detractors will rebut:
- Syracuse lost its last five games last season to miss out on a bowl game, making them 2-10 under Marrone once the calendar turns to November and beyond.
- The Orange could not build on their 8-5 season of success in 2010.
- While overall depth may have improved under Marrone, the Orange are still lacking the elite recruits to really get Syracuse back on the national radar.
Fair points on both sides. And Year 4 of the Marrone administration has people debating whether it’s sink or swim time for the head coach. Will a bad season put him in jeopardy of losing his job? Will a good season cement him atop his perch as commander-in-chief of the Syracuse football team for years to come?
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, there is a very objective staring Marrone and the Orange in the face: with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country this season, it will be very difficult for Syracuse to post a winning record this season.
Going 4-1 against the likes of Wake Forest, Rhode Island, USC (the only loss), Toledo and Tulane last season, the non-conference schedule set the Orange up to just have to meander its way through a mediocre Big East slate to get into a bowl game. And it couldn’t manage that.
Now, this season, the non-conference schedule shapes up like this: home vs. Northwestern, a neutral site game against no. 1-ranked USC, home against Stony Brook, at Minnesota, and a late-season matchup against the newest member of the SEC, Missouri, in Columbia.
OK…there should not be any problems getting past the Sea Wolves. But, beyond that, it’s conceivable the Orange loses every other matchup on that list. If that happens, it means the Orange will have to go 5-2 in Big East play to be bowl-eligible.
Maybe Syracuse gets a win over Northwestern or Minnesota, the two Big Ten opponents. Wins over USC and Missouri would rank among the better wins, not only since Marrone took over, but in the last decade on the SU hill.
What it all boils down to is this: the 2012 season may be one when any assessments on Marrone’s success or failure as Syracuse coach may have to be postponed. It looks like this team is headed for anywhere from 4-6 wins, realistically. Now, if Syracuse knocks off USC, well…Marrone could lose to Nottingham High School and his job may still be safe for 2013. And, anything fewer than four wins will represent a multiple-game drop in wins for the second straight season, not very foreboding. But, if realistic projections are reached, well…what are we to make of it?
The schedule dictates it will not be a great season inside the Carrier Dome. There is a certain expectation that a squad led by Marrone will compete and give all that it has, which still may not be good enough on some days. Barring any unforeseen results in either direction, the toughness of the schedule may just force us all to sit on the sidelines until 2013 (and an easier schedule) allows us to truly see how far Marrone has taken this program back to prominence.