With the bye week for the Syracuse Orange football team, the break allows us to do some assessing after a third of the schedule is in the books.
One win. Three losses. No real brow-raising sentences right there. They are who we thought they were.
After the first two games, losses to Northwestern and USC, some thought they were the best team to ever allow 42 points per game in the opening two games of the season. Admittedly, there were positives to take out of those first two games. A nice comeback against the Wildcats. Hanging tough with the then-#1 team in the land. We can build on this…
The last two games? Not so much. An 11-point win over a pesky FCS Stony Brook squad and a lifeless, accident-prone performance this past weekend against another Big Ten foe, Minnesota. With the worst performance of the season (four turnovers, 10 penalties, just 10 points) being the freshest thought in the minds of Syracuse fans, the outlook looks bleak going into Big East play and the boo birds have turned the warmers on head coach Doug Marrone’s chair.
But has the season really played out any differently than anticipated to this point? Not when being looked at through these eyes. This space was used a month ago to say exactly what has happened to this point: the Stony Brook game was a given, the USC game was not going to end well, and the Northwestern and Minnesota games were winnable, but not promising.
The non-conference schedule was pretty straight forward this season. It was going to be hard to manage. And, guess what? Spoiler alert: there is probably another non-conference loss waiting in Columbia in November against Missouri.
The wild card in the 2012 season, though, has always been conference play. Now, assuming a loss to Missouri, Syracuse needs to go 5-1 in the Big East to be eligible for a bowl game with a 6-6 record. The beauty about the Big East is that every game is winnable. There is not a challenge too daunting from top to bottom. Does a 4-2 conference record (5-7 overall) make you feel better about Marrone and the Orange going forward than a 2-4 conference record (3-9 overall)? Or will it take nothing shy of five conference wins to maintain any confidence in Marrone in the future?
Anywhere from four to six wins seemed to be an accurate guess as to how many wins Syracuse would get this year. Because of the non-conference challenges, this year did not seem to be about the win total, as much as it was about the look and feel of the team.
And that has been a mixed bag. The defense has struggled to keep points off the board. There have been too many mental lapses at times. And the bottom line has been the team has won just a quarter of its games.
But, there are tangible signs of progress. The offense is averaging nearly 500 yards of offense per game. Ryan Nassib is second in FBS in passing yards with almost 350 yards a contest. The depth, a need the Orange have sorely lacked the past few years, is becoming apparent. From Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, and Ashton Broyld at running back to Marcus Sales, Alec Lemon, and Jarrod West catching passes, the Orange have multiple weapons at skill positions. That leads directly back to Marrone’s improved ability to recruit compared to his predecessors. And the team is going to come to compete on a weekly
basis. Three losses by a total of 21 points mean the Orange have been in every single contest against teams that have combined to go 11-1 so far this season.
Realistically, the Orange football is where most thought they would be, showing signs of improvement, just not in the win column. Do the fans (and more importantly the Syracuse athletic department) view progress on a no-nonsense, win-or-go-home barometer? Or, is progress assessed more as an overall landscape of the program, the opponents, and the sum of all the parts?
The answer to that question will determine how hot Coach Marrone’s seat may get as the season rolls along.Matt Dagostino