Expectations can shift quickly.
In August, if I told you that Syracuse football was going to finish the season 6-6 and play in a bowl game, most of you would’ve taken that, right?
And probably happily so. After all, it’s been four seasons since the Orange has been to a bowl game and SU’s schedule is still among the most difficult in the country.
Yet roughly a month later, those expectations have shifted. A 4-0 start, Syracuse’s first since 1991, has got the fan base aiming higher. The Orange has eight games left in the season, and at the moment if you believe the ESPN FPI, is favored in five games against Pittsburgh (66.8 percent), North Carolina (80.8), NC State (52.1), and Louisville (82.3).
They are projected to lose games against Clemson (7.7), Notre Dame (22.5) and Boston College (37.10).
That would give Syracuse a 9-3 record, and likely place them in a major bowl game.
But let’s take the 4-0 start and heightened expectations into account and go back to the original premise. If Syracuse finishes 6-6 now, does that count as a successful or a disappointing season?
To be sure, you can make the argument that a 6-6 season would be disappointing, because Syracuse would go 2-6 the rest of the way and lose at least a game they were more than 2/3rds favored to win.
But I still think, even with the fast start, that a bowl game in Dino Babers’ third year is the goal, and no matter what route SU gets there, the season is considered a success. After two 4-8 seasons, a 6-6 season, even despite a 2-6 finish, would signal that the Orange is on the upswing, and a finish in the 2019 season of seven or more wins would not be considered an aberration, but rather a mandate.
Going back to the Doug Marrone era, he started his coaching career at a similar 4-8 clip, but in his second season, the Orange had a surprising turnaround, and he unexpectedly guided them to an 8-5 season. The third year did not go as planned, and SU stumbled to a 5-7 finish despite a quick start.
The fan base was disappointed at the time, but what if the second and third season had been flipped?
As in, what if Syracuse in its second year had gone 5-7 and then the third it went 8-5? The third season, then, would not have been considered a drop off.
Similarly, if Syracuse had lost to Florida State and instead stood at 3-1, then the outlook of a 6-6 season would still be considered a good one.
Either way, I do think there is something to be said about incremental steps. And clearly, the Orange program is going forward, and not backward.