It feels like every time we think we’re on the verge of turning the corner with Syracuse football, the rug gets yanked out from under us. Ever since Paul Pasqualoni was… er, “relieved of his duties” so to speak (and rightfully so, mind you — the program and recruiting were in clear decline in his final years), sky-high optimism has been met with a gut-punch of reality.
But this time, it just feels… different. Even during the first two seasons under Dino Babers (both 4-8 campaigns), we didn’t really feel like an eight loss team–particularly last year (at least until Eric Dungey went down to injury). And then, of course, came the 2018 season.
A season that–I just want to remind everyone because it still makes me giddy–is still going, and has a chance to end with 10 wins.
The last time we won 10 games in a season, I was a junior at Syracuse, and had just turned 21 right before the end of the regular season. The last time we had this much success in the win column, I was getting a drink served to me by RJ Anderson as part of a 21st birthday “booze scavenger hunt” my roommates had set up for me (the autographed ball from RJ is still in my office at work to this day, by the way).
Now, I’m 38 and have a 7-year-old kid. Next year I’ll be hitting my 10-year wedding anniversary.
Holy shit, guys, how time flies when your team is stumbling more often than not. Yeah, there have been a few highlights here and there. Ryan Nassib’s senior year, for example, gave us a team that I’d argue should have at least threatened that 10-win mark but came out of the gates too slowly. By the end of the year, they were arguably the best team in the Big East and a legit Top 25-level team.
But then, of course, came the gut-punch. Doug Marrone bolted for the Buffalo Bills, taking half the coaching staff with him, and that year’s recruiting class fell apart in a hurry.
So it’s only natural that this year, as we’re on the cusp of reaching that 10-win mark against historic rival West Virginia, and with Dino Babers becoming one of the hottest names on the open market, Orange fans were preparing themselves for that gut-punch.
It got a little ridiculous, of course, because Syracuse fans are nothing if not pessimists. I come from a long line of Syracuse fans, and when I was a kid the first Washington I knew wasn’t George, but Pearl, so I feel like I know of what I speak here. I mean, you should see the text messages my own brother–an equally die-hard Syracuse fan–sends during the course of a particularly frustrating football or basketball game.
Still, it felt like if we could only lock in Dino Babers, things would be different. Recruiting has been getting better and better (shoutout to the Swag Daddy, Nick Monroe, in particular), and the program is generating, as Jon Rothstein would say, palpable buzz around the nation.
And while the pessimists were out in full force, ranting about how John Wildhack was botching the extension and Dino was no doubt drooling over the possibility of leaving for the next job to open (despite having no knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes), Wildhack and Babers were quietly working on a deal behind the scenes. And tonight, that deal was announced by the University. A deal we likely won’t ever hear the exact details of, by the way, because Syracuse is a private institution and doesn’t need to disclose such things.
And now, things just feel… different.
We’ve been waiting for that corner to be turned for close to 20 years, since Donovan McNabb left the Hill and Michael Vick broke our hearts by picking Virginia Tech, deciding he’d rather stay closer to home and avoid McNabb’s shadow. And while I’m often accused of having a rosier view of Syracuse athletics than many of my fellow fans, I feel like I can safely say:
The corner has officially been turned. Welcome back to sustained national relevance, Syracuse football. It’s good to be back.