Team: Syracuse Orange
W-L: 5-7 (1-1)
Top Offensive Performer: Ryan Nassib, QB
Top Defensive Performer: Phillip Thomas, FS
Agonizing, tantalizing, exciting and disappointing — all of these adjectives likely would’ve been apt to describe Syracuse’s 2011 football season. After “returning to prominence” in 2010, it appeared that head coach Doug Marrone had permanently righted the ship. Alas, we (and I say “we” as a ‘Cuse fan myself) were duped. For all of the toughness, discipline and fundamentals Marrone was supposedly instilling, it appeared they were regularly left at the door of the Carrier Dome. From poor tackling, to an unseemly number of personal fouls come season’s end and outright poor decision-making in all three facets of the game, the 2011 made it appear as if not much had changed from the Greg Robinson era. If 2012 goes just as poorly, maybe nothing has.
As an offense, Syracuse topped 30 points in a game five separate times (unthinkable as recently as 2010) — including their 49-23 demolition of West Virginia in October. Yes, the same Mountaineers team that hung 70 points on Clemson. I was, and am, as shocked as you are. Following that glorious Friday night stunner (which I enjoyed from the appropriate confines of Las Vegas), SU would never score more than 21 points in their remaining five games. The pinpoint accuracy of quarterback Ryan Nassib vanished. The running game (spotty to begin with) might as well have been racking up negative yardage. And, unthinkably, the Orange failed to win six games after beginning their season 5-2. You can blame the Rutgers choke, but then there’s the Toledo gift to counter it. As lucky as they were in their first seven contests (four wins by a single score), they were devastatingly unlucky in the final five. It was a settling of accounts, if you will.
On defense, the Orange took a strength from their 2010 campaign, and made it vanish instantly. Lit up by Wake Forest to start the year, they were bailed out by a strong fourth quarter and an overtime. They let six teams hang 30 points on them, including lowly Tulane. SU needed a last-minute drive to beat Rhode Island. For the year, they’d allow over 28 points per game, and were notorious for a paper-thin run defense that allowed almost 2,000 yards on the ground. The 5.4 yards-per-play were equally exasperating, leading to a staggering 4.637 yards racked up against the Orange D in just 12 games. Blame it on injuries (Chandler Jones) and/or behavioral issues (Phillip Thomas) all you want. Regardless, there’s plenty of fault to go around, and one man cannot alter a flawed system by himself.
The 2011 Syracuse season was horrifying for everything it wasn’t, just as much as for everything it was. It possessed promise and humiliation, ecstasy and agony all at once. Admittedly, the Orange faithful (this fan included) were always too quick to buy in, yet was this team truly lacking in that much talent to miss the postseason? Based on the season’s final results, I say yes. Take a look at Nassib’s season-ending fumble/interception against Pittsburgh and you’ll get the year in a microcosm. Now we’re back to what we were from 2005-2009; just being happy to notch six wins. And maybe that’s what we’re doomed to at this point.