It's Time to Embrace a Rebuilding Year

I felt bad asking him any questions after that game. I really did. When Greg Robinson walked in to do his post-game conference after Syracuse's 26-7 loss to UConn he looked defeated. There is no other word to describe it.

The first-year coach could barely talk because he had been yelling so much. He was drenched to the bone from the three and a half hours spent in the rain. I walked out to my car and got soaked. I can't imagine standing in it for four hours. Robinson tried to be cordial about it, but was obviously in no mood to field questions from the press, and I can't say I blame him. Would you want to after a game like that?

When the sports information official asked if there were any questions for coach, there was a ten second silence. Normally, you have to fight to try and get a question in, not this time. No one wanted to ask him anything. I sure as hell wasn't going to be the first one to ask him a question.

Finally, someone asked him about UConn's defense and eased into the rest of the questions. After listening to Robinson talk for ten minutes or so, I could tell how exhausted he was. He was physically sick. Man, did he want that one bad. Losing to Florida State, West Virginia, and Virginia was acceptable, but he needed this game. And, when his team didn't get it, he knew it was over.

Let me say that again, because I think it's important for you as a Syracuse fan to accept. From a competitive standpoint, this year is over. Syracuse has no chance of making a bowl game. Believe me. I'm not being pessimistic here.

In fact, let's look at it from an optimistic point of view. Let's say Syracuse goes on a four-game win streak against Rutgers, Pitt, Cincinnati, and South Florida. It's pretty unlikely, but possible. That puts the Orange at 5-4 going into road games at Notre Dame and Louisville. Now, there's being an optimist, and then there's crazy. If you think Syracuse is going to win either of those two games on the road you're nuts. It's not going to happen.

Now, that's probably the best scenario possible, short of Syracuse suddenly becoming USC. And it puts the Orange at 5-6, a game short of bowl eligibility. So I say again, it's over. We are officially in a rebuilding year.

Before I get to the positives of a rebuilding year, I should mention how much this stinks for the seniors. These guys have to play out their year knowing everyone else on the team has moved on to preparing for next season. Sure, we'll get the same coach speak about how the most important game is the next, but Robinson knows this year is done. He has to.

The shame of it is some of these seniors are pretty good players who are getting a foul deal. Most of the defensive seniors are good players, and the defense overall isn't bad, but how can you succeed when your offense is barely functional? It's like the Baltimore Ravens. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but stink this year because their quarterback and receivers can't move the ball. I don't care how good your defense is, your offense has to, at the very least, be functional. Anthony Smith, Ryan LaCasse, and James Wyche have been flying around making plays all year, but Syracuse's offense keeps hanging them out to dry with three and outs. That's going to get frustrating to anyone, and eventually wear on you, like it did against UConn.

On offense, I feel bad for Damien Rhodes. He's a pretty good, not great, running back. But, he is talented enough where he should be more successful than he has been this year. Because Syracuse can't pass, teams are loading the box with seven or eight, sometimes even nine guys. It's simple math. Six or seven can't block nine. There really isn't much he can do about it.

The trouble is there is nothing to look forward to for these guys. My buddy is in a similar situation at college. His team stinks, and he's a senior. He's barely motivated to play anymore. This is a guy who used to love to play football. He lived for it, and now he doesn't even get psyched up before games. It's not like he's a bum either. This guy has started at wide receiver since his sophomore year. He said he has nothing to play for. There is no next year. I know none of the players would ever admit it to the media, but I have to imagine the Syracuse seniors are feeling something similar. It's too bad for them.

Now that I've made you clinically depressed, it's time for the positives:

1) The younger guys get some burn
We're going to get to see some of the players we've heard about. Robinson already mentioned he is going to play freshman Bruce Williams and Nick Chestnut at receiver more. I don't know why we haven't seen this before, but I'm glad we are now. The unit has nowhere to go but up. We'll probably see more of Curtis Brinkly and Kareem Jones at running back too. It's better for the team. If the young guys have some more game experience, they're going to be much better next year. This is cool for fans too, because we are going to get to speculate about how good someone is going to be. Take Nick Chestnut for example, he's obviously a playmaker. How good do you think he could be? I think he could be a stud, and with more time on the field, we get to see a preview of the future. Maybe even have something to be excited about for next year (imagine that).

2) You don't live and die with the team
Because Syracuse is pretty much out of it, I have nothing to freak out about. When the team was teetering around bowl territory and lost a big game, I was visibly upset for at least two days afterward. Now, I've accepted the season is over from a competitive aspect, and to be honest, it's almost relieving. Now, I can sit back and enjoy the games with a more objective view of the team. So when a Syracuse player drops an open touchdown pass there is no need for me to put a hole in my wall. I can just be happy the Orange got an opportunity, and be comforted next year, when it matters, the player will catch the ball.

3) It goes from a competitive, to a learning environment
This is important for the coaches as well as the players. When you are in a bowl competitive environment, you tend not to take as many chances. With these next six games, the Orange coaching staff has an opportunity to try some new things. If something doesn't work, it's not a big deal, just move on to the next thing. Offensive coordinator Brian Pariani and Robinson will gain some much needed experience, and maybe learn some new things for next year they wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

4) It's a "rebuilding" year, not a bad year.
The last three years Paul Pasqualoni coached the team, I felt like they were bad years. As in, I didn't see Syracuse getting any better. It got to the point where Coach P seemed content with losing five or six games and making the "Nobody Cares Bowl". I don't see that from Robinson. He knows losing is not acceptable, in any form, and is hell-bent on making the program better, and that's something to be excited about. So I say let's make the best out of it, and embrace the rebuilding year.

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