Syracuse got mauled by a team that was previously winless in Big East play on Friday, Nov. 11. It was the third loss in a row, and it was perhaps the ugliest all season. There’s no doubt that the 37-17 loss to South Florida is the low point of a season that makes a Quentin Tarantino movie seem predictable. Since there are two weeks before the next game, let’s look at how many times this year’s outlook has changed.
Preseason: Marrone is the savior. Syracuse had won its first bowl game since 2001, the Pinstripe Bowl, a thrilling 36-34 victory over Kansas State last Dec. 30. Almost everyone from the offense is back. The team says they want to win the Big East Conference. No one is laughing.
Wake Forest: A team that won all of three games last year is clobbering the Orange with 10 minutes to play. The crowd files out of the Dome. THEY ARE RUINING THE SEASON ON THE FIRST NIGHT!!! Two miraculous scores lead to overtime. Kevin Scott’s interception seals a dramatic 36-29 win for the Orangemen, and the highlights run on ESPN’s SportsCenter all night.
Rhode Island: An embarrassing performance again comes down to the final 10 minutes. Even though Syracuse pulls it out 21-14, we know they’re about to embark on a death march to Los Angeles. On a side note, here are some teams that had an easier time with the Rams: Brown, Rhode Island, Old Dominion and Liverpool High School.
Southern California: Syracuse marches right down on the field on the first possession. In a crowd of about 70,000 people, 500 SU fans are drowning out one of college football’s greatest home field advantages as the Orange take the lead. They hang around for a little while, but lose 38-17.
Toledo: The offense rounds into form. The defense comes up with enough big plays. Syracuse wins a back-and-forth, exciting home game 33-30, again in overtime, and gets to where it wants to be heading into conference play.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights steal a game they had no business winning, 19- 16 in two overtimes. Quarterback Ryan Nassib throws three picks. Running back Antwon Bailey fumbles twice. What was that play calling? This offense just doesn’t work against real teams!
Tulane: A rinky-dink television station carries a rinky-dink game in a rinky-dink atmosphere. The Orange goes up by 17 in the first half, but apparently leaves for Bourbon Street a little early. Tulane ties the game, and forces Syracuse to drive down the field for a last-second field goal to win 37-34. There’s no way they can keep up with West Virginia.
West Virginia: Not only do they hang with the Mountaineers, but the Orange run them off the field. The 49-23 thumping causes Kirk Herbstreit to tell us on the radio that “it’s starting to look like the Syracuse of old.” Bowl game, here we come!
Louisville: The Cardinals put the Orange back in their place with a 27-10 win that was never really close. Chalk it up to a bad day at work. That West Virginia game promised us that this team could play. They’ll set it straight against Connecticut.
Connecticut: Miserable game. It doesn’t get worse than losing, 28-21, to your former coach, Paul Pasqualoni, who’s already on the hot seat in his first year. A walk-on freshman quarterback, Scott McCummings, delivers the knockout punch, and now Syracuse is reeling.
South Florida: It’s a Friday-night game against a team similar to West Virginia, which, as you recall, was the season’s high point. There’s reason to believe they can turn it around. The crowd looks for any excuse to believe, but the Orange fails on two fourth-down plays in the red zone. The season runs out of steam. Same old Syracuse.
Believe it or not, same old Syracuse can still finish with seven wins and five losses, the same regular season record as last year, and still qualify for a bowl game. It could also lose out, finish last in the Big East, and miss a bowl game that was all but locked up just a month ago. Either way, it’s hard not to look back at the West Virginia game and wonder what could have been. t
Chris McManus is a 2010 graduate of Syracuse University. He is the program director at ESPN Radio 97.7 and 100.1 FM, where he hosts Disturbing the Peace weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m.