Ah, November. With two months of play now in the books and consistituting a (relatively) adequate sample size, all the random statistical noise is largely fading away, and teams around the country are starting to show and revert to their true colors. Rutgers isn't where they need to be just yet, but is steadily getting there. It's no surprise, given recent history. Nor is the acute slide of of Syracuse over the past several weeks. It's who we are, and that's who they are right now. Any peculiar, ashistorical talk about somehow reinstituting the latter's 90's-decade superiority was just that; pharmacologically-induced talk.
By now, most readers are probably familiar with yesterday's announcement that receiver Mike Williams quit the Syracuse football team. Between that loss, recent lousy attendance, and a very public quarterback controversy, the mood yesterday in Orangeland was predictably glum.
Should it be though? For one thing, by managing to beat Akron, Syracuse and Doug Marrone have managed to accomplish something that Greg Robinson couldn't in 2008. The Orange showed some competitive fire in September, but have been slowly beaten down over the course of the past two months, the rigors of time exposing their brutal lack of depth on both sides of the ball; not to mention, athleticism and experience.
Take it from someone familiar with rebuilding a program in the midst of one of the worst all-time hires in college football history; it takes time. The current SU roster has a handful of standouts, but is largely a mess. Offseason housecleaning exacerbated things. More than anything else, Marrone needs warm bodies. Players who had not grown accustomed to the repeated failures of the Robinson era, his essence perminating throughout the roster, signifying Greg's status as disease-ridden hellspawn
That may be one reason that Marrone was so eager to start Greg Paulus this season. Owing to his lofty high school accolades, Orange fans mostly overlooked the fact that their returning prodigal son had not touched a football in four years. With underclassman Ryan Nassib looking better than Paulus in recent weeks, it's hard to see why Marrone did end up starting Paulus. Nassib seems to be better, and as an added bonus, actually has eligibility remaining beyond this season. As far as I can tell, it was a decision solely driven by the need to generate national media interest in the program, and reinvigorate a fanbase that had long since quit on Robinson.
The biggest downside to starting Paulus may have been that the move simply set expectations too high for this season. If Marrone went with an underclassmen, the narrative changes to "write off this year, we're building for the future, any positive signs at all are reason for wide-eyed optimism". By going with the fifth year senior, it's impliciting saying that you expect to seriously compete at a high level this year.
As far as I could tell, the biggest reason for optimism with this season for Syracuse was the fact that Doug Marrone could not possibly be worse than Greg Robinson. Fair enough, but Syracuse is his first head coaching gig on any level. Even if Marrone ultimately turns into a god hire, it was not realistic to be an overnight success. Not facing the toughest college rebuilding job since Greg Schiano replaced Terry Shea (the ur-GRob in nearly all aspects) nearly nine years ago.
In this sense, there isn't truly all that much to be alarmed about regarding the recent events. Syracuse fans should have tempered their expectations, instead of preemptively gloating about the wonders of Paulus after lighting up the likes of Northwestern and Maine. Sure, Marrone has made some awful mistakes, but those are to be expected considering the circumstances. Is there really anything to indicate that the current results compare unfavorably to any other rebuilding job in recent memory?
That being said, even though I don't actually give a damn either way about Syracuse football, it's somewhat (ok, very) amusing to think back to all the recent SU anti-Rutgers sentiment, and smile if just for a moment. Their louder fans only brought the resulting meltdown on themselves, through their sheer hubris and overwhelming lack of humility. So take heart, my friend Jeff and all the other Cuse grads out there who actually are varying degrees of sane if you wrest away their keyboards. The next year and a half may well be painful, but there's no real reason to jump to any conclusions at the moment. Just as, in retrospect, there weren't over the past few months when things were looking better.