To say that this season left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths would depend on whom you ask. Young or optimistic fans would whole-heartedly agree.
This was a season that at the beginning of October looked like the Orange were destined for their first BCS trip and a return to the top of the Big East.
Ask fans who weathered the Greg Robinson era, and this season was a sure improvement over anything Robinson put on the field. Thus, even a five-win season is considered an improvement.
However, the way the Orange climbed and fell has to make Syracuse fans think for a minute.
There was so much promise and Head Coach Doug Marrone showed that last season, he could work magic out of the talent he had. However, lightning did not strike twice as the Orange have now gone a decade without consecutive bowl appearances.
Doug Marrone has had four years to rebuild a former contender ruined, and ultimately there have been mixed results. In this world of instant gratification, there was a question posed by some regarding Doug Marrone’s future with Syracuse.
Is the first alum coach since 1948 really on the hot seat? Looking at the stats, some may say yes. The futility of Syracuse under Robinson has been well documented, but Marrone has not had an easy ride either.
In three seasons, Marrone has managed five Big East wins, only two of them coming in the Dome.
In that same span, the Orange have lost their 12 Big East games by an average of 20 points a game. Coach Marrone has yet to defeat Pitt, Louisville or Connecticut, and these games have not been pretty. Syracuse, on average, has lost by 23 each game to the Panthers, 16 points to the Huskies, and eight points to the Cardinals.
In these three seasons, the only non-Big East FBS opponents the Orange have defeated are Akron (which was done twice), Toledo, Tulane, Northwestern, Wake Forest and Kansas State.
Furthermore, as many fans will point out, some easy comparison tests for Syracuse are Northwestern, Boston College and Wake Forrest. Aside from Wake, who Syracuse defeated this season, the Orange have fallen short of the benchmarks set by other small, private FBS universities.
Northwestern has found a way into a bowl game every year since 2009, while Boston College missed a bowl just once this past season with a disappointing 4-8 mark. Moral of the story: Syracuse is still renting the basement.
However, Doug Marrone’s rebuilding has helped “restore” Syracuse football to an extent.
The most obvious statistics are that Marrone has already won more Big East games than Robinson in one less season and the Pinstripe Bowl victory from last season. Digging deeper, the Orange have consistently been more competitive in Big East play.
In Doug Marrone’s first season, the average margin of defeat was 16.5 points a game. In the magical second season, the Orange technically did not improve from that number as it jumped to 18.6 a game, but the number is inflated by a 31-point defeat to Pitt, the worst Marrone has suffered so far. Discounting that game, the average margin of defeat drops to 12.5 a game.
This past season, the number continued dropping to 11 points a game, showing that even though the wins may not be piling up, the losses are getting less and decided by two possessions or less.
Syracuse is also gaining national attention, as the Orange have played then No. 5 Penn State in 2009 and a USC team good enough to be ranked and win its Pac-12 division this season.
In all fairness, the reality is while the results may not be pretty, Doug Marrone is improving the Orange, but the ride from the very bottom of the NCAA is a long one.
The Orange is faced with an opportunity to make a resurgence as this season’s recruiting class features talent from across the country and players capable of making an immediate impact.
As this talent continues to develop, the Orange will be showcased over the next three years at MetLife Stadium against USC, Penn State and Notre Dame.
In reality, Doug Marrone’s seat is not hot yet, but continued one-win Big East seasons will surely warm his seat more and more.
Next season’s team on paper does not have as much talent as this year’s team unless young players make major improvements this offseason.
Another five-win season looks like a very legitimate possibility. This topic will probably come up a year from now and have the same answer, but Marrone will be pressured to show results with better players in the years after.
For now, Marrone has no job security worries. And while the fans may be patient, the patience will eventually wear too thin if the basement of the Big East continues to be called home.