Syracuse was supposed to have turned the corner. They had announced their arrival back on the national scene of college football. After all, they had just dismantled 11th ranked West Virginia in front of a national audience. But five straight losses later, it appeared as if the program had taken a step back, not a step forward.
The hope and optimism within the fan base had faded. Returned had the skepticism and pessimism from years past. And who could blame them? After suffering through the end of the Paul Pasqualoni era, and the debacle that was the Greg Robinson era, Syracuse fans had been trained to expect the worst.
Then the 2012 Syracuse Orange took the field and unveiled a high flying, fast paced offensive attack, and some optimism returned. A hard fought effort against USC, an early favorite to win the national title, gave people more reason to be excited.
Then came a lackluster performance against Stony Brook. Then came a loss at Minnesota and a 1-3 start. Then came that frustrating loss at Rutgers where Syracuse continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers.
This Syracuse team, unlike its predecessor, had the chemistry, coaching, mental strength, and talent to bounce back from those obstacles. The 2012 edition of the Orange became the anti-2011 Syracuse football squad.
It started with a much needed blowout, a 40-10 domination of Connecticut. It continued with an epic comeback at South Florida. After a small bump in the road at Cincinnati, the Orange found themselves with an undefeated, top-10 opponent coming into the Dome.
All they did was dominate that team in blowout fashion on national television. Unlike 2011, they followed up that big win with two more impressive showings to end the season. A comeback win on the road against SEC foe Missouri got more fan's attention than the blowout of Louisville.
A second half domination of Temple, and the season was complete. 7-5 and 5-2 in conference. The best conference showing since 2001. A guarantee of having a winning season in 2012. A second bowl game in the last thee years. Redemption.
Not only had the team redeemed itself, but players and coaches did as well. Instead of fans calling for the firing of Doug Marrone, many are calling for an extension. The alum turned coach was able to navigate through what was considered one of the most difficult schedules in the country into a team that is playing maybe the best football in the Big East. Given how much he cares about this program, 2012 was a much needed season for him.
Ryan Nassib was doubted by a large portion of the fan base coming into the season. Now, he has nearly all of the Syracuse passing records and is considered an NFL draft pick. The senior quarterback excelled in the new, up-tempo offense, leading this Syracuse bunch to the best offensive performance in school history.
Jerome Smith was a big question mark as well. The running back position was supposed to be by committee, and the streak of 1,000-yard rushers would come to an end. Instead, Smith took the job, and got better as the season progressed. After a fantastic end to the season, he broke that thousand yard barrier in the regular season finale. Now, the fan base is excited to see what Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley and company can do when they return next season.
Marcus Sales had not played football since the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl. He bounced back with an eight touchdown, 60-plus catch season.
A Syracuse defense that had major struggles in 2011 showed improved speed, a better pass rush, and forced turnovers down the stretch. Keon Lyn had the first pick-six for the Orange since 2006.
Alec Lemon answered the bell with a 1,000 yard season of his own, and has turned himself into an NFL draft pick as well. His leadership, excellent hands, and fantastic route running were especially evident during the last half of the season.
The offensive line had been a huge question mark, but turned into the most consistent unit on the entire team in 2012. Justin Pugh and Sean Hickey were incredible at the tackle spots. Macky MacPherson held his own inside. Zach Chibane was consistently good all season. And Rob Trudo turned into a force in the running game.
Many others had big seasons that answered critics. Adonis Ameen-Moore found his role as the tank back. Marquis Spruill returned to form. Brandon Reddish cemented himself as the team's best corner. Shamarko Thomas had big moments. The result of all of that was the Orange returning to post-season play.
Regardless of the bowl game in which Syracuse ends up playing, 2012 was a big success for the program. There will be many changes in 2013, but things seem to be headed into the right direction.
It was a season that reenergized the fan base. One that reaffirmed to Doug Marrone that he was doing the right things. A season that allowed so many players to answer the doubters. It was, a season of redemption.