Hey guys. I think we need to sit down and talk about a few things. Yeah, I realize everyone is bummed out about Syracuse losing 45-20 to South Florida. Not much of a way to spend homecoming weekend, though judging by the stands, not many of you bothered to spend homecoming weekend in the Carrier Dome anyway.
But let’s sort some things out here, and set something straight:
We’re pretty much exactly who we thought (or at least should have thought) we were right now. Even Dino Babers said it would take time to get to where we need to be. Yes, the defense is struggling. Yes, that’s an understatement. The offense has failed to fire on as many cylinders as we were hoping thus far.
But isn’t that what we all pretty much expected?
We knew this was a young, untested defensive unit, trying to learn a new scheme that none of them have played before (and for which very few were recruited). We had zero defensive ends who had taken a collegiate snap at that position. Our secondary was shredded last year, and half of the new guys we had hoped would help that unit either didn’t qualify (Michael Moore, James Pierre) or were out with injury before the season even started (Devon Clarke).
So why, exactly, were we expecting things to suddenly turn around there?
Our flaws have only been highlighted by the fact that two of our first three opponents have explosive offenses. Louisville is looking like the best offensive team in football right now, and USF came into today’s game averaging 52.0 points-per-game. They’ve also won 11 of their last 16 games, and by the way – they were favored by two touchdowns today.
The early 17-0 lead was fool’s gold, and unfortunately it – combined with Louisville dismantling Florida State – started making some people think that perhaps Syracuse is better than they actually are.
I have always said that six wins is certainly possible this season, but right now, I’m expecting us to finish the year 4-8. There are definitely winnable games left on the schedule, and getting to six victories is still not out of the question. We always knew Louisville was going to be a loss. South Florida was always a “toss up” but leaning heavily in USF’s favor, as evidenced by the point spread.
In other words: through three games, our record is basically exactly what we all should have anticipated it would be. And right now, there are three games remaining on the schedule I’m circling as games we still probably should win.
The first is next week, actually, when the Orange take on UConn. Yes, UConn went to a bowl last year. Yes, they’re 2-1 this year. But have you actually stopped to look at who they’ve been playing, and the scores of some of those games? Their’s is a record inflated by lousy competition. They opened up the year managing to barely get by Maine by a three point margin. Today, they needed a terrible Virginia team to miss a field goal to escape with another three point win (that same UVA team that’s 0-3 and lost to Richmond).
They also have something in common with the other two schools I still think we should beat: they have a pretty bad offense. The other two teams on my “should win” list are Boston College and Wake Forest. Wake is 2-0 and will probably get to 3-0 today as they take on Delaware (they’re leading 17-7 as I write this), but they’ve been out-gained, on average, so far this year against Tulane and Duke. Neither of those teams is exactly what you’d call “good” by the way.
Boston College, meanwhile, couldn’t even score on themselves in their spring game. Today, they were annihilated by Virginia Tech 49-0. The Eagles managed only 124 yards of total offense.
See what I’m getting at here?
Syracuse, this season, is built to put up big offensive numbers and outscore opponents in order to win. That’s what we need to do in order to get wins this season. Squaring off against mediocre, or even flat out inept offenses certainly helps reach that goal. A bad offense like BC’s is going to do half the work for a shaky Syracuse defense. The Eagles (and to a lesser degree, UConn and Wake) are about as far away from Louisville and South Florida as an offense can possibly get.
Those three games are very, very winnable. After that, things get a little trickier. NC State is probably the next most likely game that the Orange could steal, especially since it’s late in the season. Hopefully by then, the offense and defense will be a little farther along and playing at a higher level that could help lead to a relatively surprising win. Virginia Tech is probably not going to be a win at this point, particularly seeing what they did against BC (and with the knowledge that a lot of their early struggles this season have come as a result of turnovers). Pitt, unfortunately, looks a hell of a lot better than I anticipated. That one has probably shifted from “winnable” to “probable loss” at this point.
Still, against a schedule this difficult, with entirely new systems being installed, personally I think a 4-8 season is acceptable. Next year won’t be much easier, since the schedule is just as tough. By then, both the offense and defense will be fully installed and the staff will be able to bring in more of their own guys who fit those systems. We’re looking at 2018, in all likelihood, as the first viable bowl year for Dino and his staff.
And honestly: that’s what most of us should have been looking at from the start. Brutal schedules, new systems, players who don’t really fit those systems…these things do not make for good bedfellows.
So don’t let games like Louisville and South Florida completely skew your outlook on the overall plan for Syracuse football. They’re two good teams (in the case of Louisville, a potentially great team led by a guy who’s basically a video game player with all of his skills set to 99, the way he’s playing) that the Orange were likely never going to beat, and who were built to exploit Syracuse’s defensive weaknesses.
We are who we thought we were. And the results of these last two weeks really just underline that. Let’s wait until we play a few actual “peer” teams before we start hitting the panic button, okay?