It seems like in the last decade or so, the Syracuse Orange have been caught in a nightmarish “Groundhog Day” scenario.
The same horrible storyline—can the Orange overcome the loss of its best player—has continually plagued this team for years now.
In 2006, JuCo transfer Taj Smith emerged as a much needed playmaker in the first few games of the year and helped the Orange jump out to a 2-2 record. In fact, it could have been a 3-1 start, with one of the losses coming in overtime to a tough Iowa team.
Then, in the fourth game, Smith broke his collarbone and was lost for the year. The offense tanked and the promise the Orange showed in the first third of the season evaporated while they went 2-6 the rest of the way.
The only bright spots to come out of that season were true freshmen Delone Carter and Mike Williams.
Carter led the Orange in rushing with 713 yards and four touchdowns while splitting carries with Curtis Brinkley. Williams came on strong in the second half of the year to lead Syracuse in receiving with 461 yards and four touchdowns.
The 2007 season looked like it could have been great—Taj Smith was coming back, Mike Williams looked like an up-and-coming receiver, and Delone Carter was looked at as possibly the next great tailback in a long line of phenomenal running backs at Syracuse.
Then, with hopes high during the spring, the dream came crashing down in an instant when the news broke that Delone Carter dislocated his hip.
It was immediately obvious that Delone would be lost for the season, but even more worrisome were the thoughts that the same injury that ended Bo Jackson’s career might also claim Carter’s.
Without their top back, 2007 turned into another dismal season. The offense displayed just enough punch in its passing game to inspire hope each week, but it couldn’t overcome a porous defense, an atrocious offensive line, and a running game that only managed 753 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
The Mike Williams fiascos of 2008 and 2009 are something I’d rather not get into in much detail, as it’s a topic that still invokes some bitterness.
The receiver occupying the top spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ depth chart as a rookie this season severely crippled the Orange program in two consecutive years with his maturity issues.
In 2008, he missed the entire season after being accused of cheating on an exam and then—after being given another chance in 2009—he got into trouble multiple times before quitting midway through the year.
For fans, this recurring nightmare has been maddening. So when the news broke midway through spring practice that Delone Carter (who amazingly returned to full strength after his hip injury and rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2009) had gotten into an altercation with a student this winter, allegedly punching him, Orange Nation had to have let out a collective sigh while a single thought floated through each mind.
Here we go again.
Carter has been in limbo since April, when the news broke and he was suspended from school.
Finally though, after months of waiting for updates on Carter’s status, Syracuse fans finally heard some positive news, straight from the mouth of Doug Marrone himself.
Delone Carter is back.
“We look forward to (Delone Carter) coming back and being a part of this team,” Marrone said during his Media Day press conference, when asked whether Carter would face further discipline. "One of the things that has happened is that we have taken disciplinary action internally as a football program and Judicial Affairs has had its part in that. As far as our football program goes, we have punished Delone and that punishment has been carried out. Now it is time for us to move forward.”
According to Marrone, Carter began traveling from his home near Akron, Ohio on Monday and will be joining the team in Syracuse today.
A positive break this time of the year almost feels foreign. For years, bad news has seemed to stalk this program, hovering over it constantly like the sword of Damocles, dropping periodically to end someone’s season and cripple the team.
The Orange ostensibly managed to avoid its fall in this instance, but that doesn’t mean the program is safe yet.
There’s a lot of potential on this team, with a number of young, talented players who are ready for a breakout season this year. However, they’re seriously lacking depth, and significant losses could be the difference between a bowl game and another dismal two-to-four win season.
With Carter seemingly a go for the 2010 season, the bowl hopes in Syracuse can continue to burn strong.