Syracuse fans have had to deal with a lot of pain and disappointment the last half-decade or so.
The almost weekly tallies to the loss column during the last five seasons are what everyone knows about. The Orange became a laughing stock of the media and all of college football under former head coach Greg Robinson as the losses piled up.
What the rest of the country doesn’t always hear about is the ridiculous amount of bad luck that the Orange have had off the field the past several years.
This team, which has been so short on stars in recent memory, has had to deal with losing one of their best players in each of the past four seasons.
The news that broke Monday afternoon, that Mike Williams has quit the team, is yet another blow to the turnaround hope for this down-on-its-luck program. While they’ve been lucky to not suffer any major injuries or other losses through the first eight games, this certainly serves as a reminder that Syracuse may not be out of the woods yet.
The overwhelming evidence that this program has been snakebitten started accumulating in Greg Robinson’s second season, when the nasty trend of losing their best players each year began.
A JUCO transfer named Taj Smith came out of nowhere in 2006 and played a major role in Syracuse’s 2-2 start, that included a double-overtime loss to Iowa, before breaking his collarbone against Miami (OH) and missing the rest of the season.
The Orange offense utterly collapsed without him, averaging only 11.5 points a game in Big East play, after averaging 22.0 in their four games with Smith on the field.
One of the few bright spots that emerged on that 2006 team was true freshman Delone Carter, who ran for 713 yards and four touchdowns. Going into 2007 many thought Carter was destined to have a monster sophomore year, and would lead the Orange to a turnaround season.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Carter suffered a freak injury in spring practice, planting his leg awkwardly during a drill and dislocating his hip. Suddenly the man who many already considered to be Syracuse’s best player was out for the entire season, and his entire career appeared to be in jeopardy.
Without him the Orange running game was nonexistent. Syracuse managed only 753 rushing yards as a team that season, and averaged only 2.0 yards per carry.
To top things off, Syracuse also lost the gem of their 2007 recruiting class, middle linebacker Jermaine Pierce.
A four-star prospect and a physical specimen, Pierce was expected to bolster Syracuse’s weak corp of linebackers immediately, but was diagnosed with a rare blood clotting issue before the season began. Sadly, what looked like a very promising career ended before he ever saw the field.
The following year though, things were looking up for the Orange offense.
Quarterback Andrew Robinson had put together a solid first season as the starter in 2007 and was expected to be even better in 2008.
Carter successfully recovered from his career-threatening hip injury and was again ready to take the field as well.
The Orange also had junior Mike Williams, who had turned into one of the best receivers in the Big East the previous season. Williams made 60 grabs in 2007 for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns, including one in nine consecutive games to end the year.
Considered to be Syracuse’s best player, Williams looked poised for a monster year. He dominated all through spring practice, and put on a show at the spring game with several spectacular catches.
Then the hammer dropped on Williams and the Orange, as the news broke that he had been suspended from school for cheating on a test. Like Smith and Carter the previous two seasons, Williams would miss the entire 2007 season, and the results on the field were noticeable.
In 2008 with Williams absent and Robinson’s mysterious struggles, Cameron Dantley became the starting quarterback in week two and Syracuse managed only 1,458 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air for the season.
The year before, Robinson and Cameron Dantley had combined to throw for 2,750 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Now Williams is gone again, after proving once again to be Syracuse’s best player.
In the seven games he played, Williams was unstoppable making 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. He was also named a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff award, which is given to the nation’s top wide receiver.
With only four games left, and Syracuse’s bowl hopes becoming dimmer and dimmer, the loss may not make a whole lot of difference in 2009 though.
Unfortunately, Williams’ decision may end up being more meaningful in 2010, as he could have been the difference between another sub .500 season and Syracuse’s first bowl appearance since 2004.
It appears the curse that has been upon this football program may not have left with Greg Robinson and Doug Marrone’s task of exorcising this program’s demons just got quite a bit harder.