Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Defining Success for Syracuse Football

The start of the 2009 Syracuse football season is less than 72 hours away and like the vast majority of the Syracuse fan base, we cannot wait for the season to begin. New head coach Doug Marrone has given everyone who follows the program the most precious gift a fan could ask for -- hope. After four miserable years filled with blow out losses, a bumbling inept offense and a defense that perfected bending and then breaking, fans are desperate for some success. For a program that has the 14th most wins in NCAA football history, the last four years were unacceptable. Hell, the last four years would have been unacceptable for any program.

So now a new era is upon us and we have to determine how will we define success as it relates to the 2009 season. If Syracuse hadn't suffered through four years of the worst coaching on the planet, the answer would simple - wins and losses. That's why sports are so great, the results are immediate and measurable. To quote Herm Edwards - you play to win the game.

Sadly, because of the condition the program was left in, I don't feel like we can use wins and losses as an indicator of success this year. This team has some real hurdles to overcome. Syracuse lacks depth at multiple positions, has a first year head coach and a quarterback who hasn't played football since 2004. The offensive line has been in a constant state of flux and the roster is made up of freshman and guys who have won a total of 10 games over the last four years.

Predicting more than 6 wins is borderline insane. To put it in perspective, Bud Poliquin wrote a column that invoked '69 Mets, Buster Douglas and Chaminade and he still only predicted 6 wins.

So if wins and losses are out, how do I define success this year? By meeting the following criteria.

No blowouts - One of the great criticisms near the end of the Pasqualoni era was all too often Syracuse was on the wrong side of lop-sided scores, often in front of national TV audiences. Whether it was Virginia Tech winning 62-0, Miami blowing out the Orange during their last 10 win season or the ill-fated Champs Bowl blowout that ultimately cost Coach P his job, people were getting tired of watching SU imitate a doormat. Little did we know when P left that there wasn't a team on the planet that couldn't blow out a Greg Robinson coached squad.

The first sign of success this year is simply playing 12 competitive football games. It's sad I know, but everyone has had enough of being 3 td underdogs, witnessing 40 point blowouts and having Syracuse be a perpetual resident in the ESPN Bottom 10. Other than Penn State on the road, there isn't a team on the schedule that should blow this team out. And nothing will guarantee a half empty Dome all season like a blow out loss on Saturday against Minnesota.

Score some f*cking points - Everyone knows how bad the offense has been for the last four years. Marrone and offensive coordinator Rob Spence have promised a wide open, multiple offense. On the surface it seems like a perfect fit for the Dome. It's something people have been clamoring for for years. Now they need to make it work. Fans will be more more tolerant of a Syracuse team that loses 42-38 than one that can only muster 200 yards of offense and loses 17-10. Trust me on this.

Get to the quarterback - The last time SU won 10 games in a season it was 2001 and a guy named Freeney was terrorizing quarterbacks. He tallied 17 sacks that year as a one man wrecking crew. Regardless of what happens this year on the defensive side of the ball (and they are paper thin in the back 7) they need to find different ways to get to the opposing quarterback. I'd rather see this team give up some big plays because they were forcing the action then watch them sit back and have the offense dictate the action. For the love of God I hope we've seen the last of the SU corners playing 15 yards off the ball.

Make special teams special again - Frank Beamer has made a career out of coaching teams that have dominating special teams. Beamerball is now in the national lexicon and it's not a coincidence that Virginia Tech has been successful for a long, long time. For a team that's going to need to surprise some opponents, there's no better way to do it that through special teams. What's exciting is that new special teams coach Bob Casullo is one of the best in the game. Hopefully he'll bring enough wrinkles to stun some opponents. One well timed play can change the tone of an entire game. Florida never recovered from the opening kick off return TD off a reverse nearly 20 years ago. Special teams can change momentum immediately and there's four years of bad momentum to reverse.

Get out of the Big East basement - I said I wasn't going to judge this team, or Marrone's performance, on wins or losses this year - but for progress to be made, another last place finish in the weakest BCS conference won't get it done. The league is wide open, every team has strengths and glaring weaknesses. SU needs to find a way to win a couple of games and leave last place to someone else. I'm talking to you Louisville.

Doug Marrone needs to keep on being tremendous - Doug Marrone has said and done all the right things since his arrival. He's restored tradition, discipline and accountability to a program in desperate need of all those things. He has said time and time again he'll be judged on wins and losses and he understands he cannot fail. He wants excellence and he wants it now. We've all seen the fire and passion that burns in this man to succeed - what we haven't seen is him coach an actual game. We need coach Marrone to show us he's as good on sidelines when the lights go up as he appears to be in Spring Ball and Fall Camp.

So there you have it. This year if I see close games featuring an exciting offense, a defense that hits the opposing quarterback, inventive special teams and a few wins with a coach showing potential for a lot more, in my eyes, the season will be a success. And for the first time in years the Dome will be a fun place to spend a Saturday afternoon. After four years of Greg, that's plenty to ask for.

1 comment:

Poncho Sinatra said...

Great piece there Rush! I am still trying to figure out how to get out of this wedding to attend the game this weekend? Note to self-never get married during a home opener.