Syracuse football has certainly been on an upswing over the past five years, winning three bowl games over the last four years including two in a row under first Doug Marrone and now Scott Shafer. Still, the team is working toward garnering national respect, so the question lingers: when can we say the corner has officially been turned?
There are certainly several factors that go into the whole “corner being turned” argument. Frankly, you could say that the corner has been turned already with the forward momentum the team has been carrying with it since Greg Robinson was ousted as head coach. Remember, this was a program that won just 10 games in four years under the Little Engine that Couldn’t, and has now won 32 games in the five seasons since he was replaced.
Some folks thought the Orange would take a step backward when Marrone bolted for the Buffalo Bills and the NFL, but despite a few rocky outings, Shafer had his team back in a bowl game last year and earned a hard-nosed victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to secure another winning season despite having had to replace much of the coaching staff, let alone record setting players like Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon.
But back to the original question. How do we know when the corner has officially been turned? Well, I suppose that depends on what your vision of the Syracuse program is, and where you realistically expect it to be moving forward.
For me, growing up on the Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb teams in the 1990’s, I became accustomed to perennial top 25 rankings, as the Orange finished in the top 25 in seven of the 10 seasons that decade. But the team hasn’t found itself even sniffing the top 25 since 2001, when Dwight Freeney almost single-handedly carried the team to a 10-3 record and a season ending No. 14-ranking.
But that season was the anomaly for a full decade, beginning with the 1999 season that saw Troy Nunes and Madei Williams splitting time at quarterback. Not to get off on a tangent, but the lack of preparation at the quarterback spot set the program back immensely. I’m not saying those two guys weren’t prepared to go out there and give it their all; on the contrary, I’m saying that the coaching staff under Paul Pasqualoni was unprepared with the depth at that position, all stemming from them believing they had Michael Vick locked up as McNabb’s heir apparent, and when that fell through, they were seemingly at a loss as to what to do next.
Recruiting is obviously a big key in determining a team’s success. Obviously, rankings are not an exact science but it’s pretty telling that the teams with the top recruiting classes, like Alabama, are perennially in the national title hunt while team’s like Syracuse are scrambling to make it to the middle of the pack. I’m not saying that Syracuse should be expecting to compete for a championship every season, but it’s no coincidence that as recruiting has slipped over the years, so too has on field performance.
Let’s look at the recruiting class rankings since 2004, when Rivals.com had the Syracuse class ranked as the 50th best in the nation. Since then, from 2005 and moving forward to 2014, the Orange class rankings have looked like this:
56, 52, 48, 48, 118 (this class produced Justin Pugh, Alec Lemon, and Shamarko Thomas, so again – not an exact science), 78, 76, 66, 74, 51.
Rivals hasn’t updated their 2015 class rankings to reflect all of Syracuse’s commits, but 247sports.com has, and as of this morning in the most recent update, 247 has the Orange’s class of 2015 ranked as the 30th best in the nation. Clearly, there is some serious momentum that’s thanks in large part to offensive coordinator and recruiting phenom George McDonald, and social media wunderkind Eric White among others. Those guys came in with good reputations and so far, in their first two years, they’re delivering.
So has a corner been turned? That’s the question we have to keep coming back to, and for me at least, the answer is no…but we’re very, very close. How will we know when the corner has truly been turned? Well, you’ll know it through the results both on the field and in recruiting. We can’t truly say the corner has been turned until we’re at least getting some votes for the top 25, and in the world of recruiting, you’ll know the perception has changed when Syracuse is able to land four and five star prospects. For instance, Davante Davis at first looked like a great under the radar prospect that Syracuse was lucky to land, but as soon as the big boys like Alabama came calling, he reneged on his verbal.
When that doesn’t happen, and we go from trying desperately to hold onto our big recruits and hoping they don’t blow up, to being confident they are Orangemen through and through, that’s when the national perception will have completely changed.
The momentum is there for this to happen sooner rather than later. Scott Shafer is a player’s coach, and his guys buy into him and his staff. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Syracuse is back to being a nationally respected program.
We’re close, but we aren’t quite there…yet.