Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Syracuse Football: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Syracuse Orange football team had a bad day on on Saturday. A really bad day. An Andy Reid at a clock management convention type of day. Expectations, which were moderate at the start of the season, had soared based almost solely on a victory over a South Florida team that had historically dominated the Orange.

While there's a lot of season left, it's pretty clear those high expectations we out of whack -- because South Florida couldn't score against a Greg Robinson coached defense and Syracuse has a ways to go before they can establish themselves as a real threat in the Big East.

So where does this SU team go from here? A winning season and a bowl game is still obviously the goal, but how do they get there? Can they still get there? I think they can, but only if they can survive the next two weeks.

The loss to Pitt hurt. Not so much because the Orange lost a game few expected them to win at the start of the season, but rather they got dominated at the hands of a conference foe. A conference foe that was struggling. For a team that has lost so much over the past five years, and often lost by vast margins, doubt can creep into a player's mind quickly. Doug Marrone has worked hard to eradicate a culture of losing, but that doesn't go away over night.

So how will SU respond? The bad news for the Orange, the next two games are against the best the Big East conference has left to offer - West Virginia and Cincinnati. And they happen to be on the road.

Both games will be quite a challenge for an Orange team that's averaging less than 16 points a game against the three opponents its played with a pulse (Washington, South Florida and Pitt). Betting men will tell you that two more losses and a three game losing streak are on the way.

However, November sets up a lot better for SU. The Orange have home games against Louisville, Connecticut, and Boston College and a road trip play a decidedly average Rutgers team as their last four games. SU can win 3 of those last 4 and get to a bowl IF they can accomplish two things against WVU and Cincy:

1) Compete hard and keep these games close
2) Avoid major injuries

The first point is crucial because regardless of what any player or coach will tell you, if SU goes on the road and gets their teeth kicked in the next two games, there's no way in hell this team will have the confidence and swagger it needs to close out the season with three wins in 4 tries. There's too much water under the bridge - too many blow out losses in the memory banks, and too much bad momentum to overcome. Three straight blow out losses will awaken the ghosts of Robinson and could very well shatter the confidence of the younger members of team.

However, if SU can come out, establish some offensive rhythm and get back to being disruptive on defense, and keep these games close going into the 4th quarter of each of them, then the Orange don't NEED to win these games. They'll know they are getting better and fell short to two good teams in hostile venues.

The second point is obvious, this team is too thin to overcome any more key injuries.

So while I'll be rooting for wins in the next two games, what I'll really be hoping for are competitive games and health. If the Orange can do that, a bowl trip is still possible, regardless of the next two final scores.

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