As Syracuse's September 2nd tilt against Wake Forest draws ever closer, expectations and tempered optimism appear to have found a foothold on The Hill.
Whether this is reasonble or not is certainly subject to debate. Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Bud Poliquin, however, has managed to both define the optimism and wake up the echoes of an old and disturbing recruiting nightmare:
As much of a curmudgeon as I may be, Poliquin sets the standard for cantankerous behavior. Reminding the Syracuse populace of what should have been a recruiting coup at a time when most of the Orange faithful has buried not one, but two Paulus debacles into the deep recesses of its collective fandom takes a blind wit that few appreciate.
The great good news on this morning is that there are still plenty of believers out there. A 1-10 record? Nine losses in a row? An offense that couldn't move the ball against a double strand of Charmin last autumn?
Didn't matter on Wednesday night up there on the big campus in town. Didn't matter, anyway, to the crowd of 500 or so rubberneckers who came out on a gorgeous summer evening to take a gander at Greg Robinson's Orange Edition No. II.
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The breezy affair was billed SU's "Wednesday Night Lights," and if it wasn't a stroke of marketing genius, it was at the very least a nice conciliatory gesture. As in, "Why don't we all forget about Ought-Five and concentrate, instead, on those no-good Demon Deacons?"
And, sure, most of the visitors so many of whom had to have hoped that last season's 1-10 was an accident and not an omen seemed to buy in. This Orange bunch, after all, was 0-0, it was tied for first place in the Big East Conference and it hadn't yet executed a single three-and-out.
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What, then, was not to like on this August evening?
That is, beyond the fact that Greg Paulus was taking it all in at the base of one of the end zones while wearing a "Duke Basketball" shirt and not an orange helmet?
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Happiness was seeing that 1-10 campaign in the rearview mirror. Melancholy was watching Greg Paulus, the Duke point guard and not the Syracuse quarterback . . . watching.
Poliquin does, however, accurately depict the tension between the optimism held by many members of Orange Nation and the biting reality gripping Syracuse's football program. Paulus is the shining example of where Syracuse must go before recapturing its place amongst the college football elite. The fact that Paulus is still tied to the Orange program yet not participating shows the talent and recruiting deficiencies Greg Robinson must overcome. Granted, Robinson has accumulated a nice incoming class for 2007, but until that class enrolls on campus and matures, pre-season optimism is the only good tidings that this fanbase will experience on an annual basis.
Dave Rahme is Unimpressed; Benches Volkswagens
Continuing the theme set by Poliquin in today's edition of the Post-Standard, staff writer Dave Rahme chimes in with his thoughts on the blind optimism held by many of the Orange faithful:
Rahme has hit the nail on the head: things should improve this year for the Orange, but a Notre Dame-esque "Return to Glory" is still eons into the future. In the truncated season preview appearing on this notebook, I have written much material similar to that posed today by Rahme. 2006 is truly going to be a year of transition, marked by continual growing pains and frequent bouts of abject frustration.
Hope springs eternal
A friend at the gym stopped me yesterday as I was lifting weights and asked, "Hey do you really believe all that stuff you've been writing in the paper about the football team?"
My response: "This is August. The team is 0-0. I'll have three months to analyze what goes wrong."
Thinking about it afterward, I realized I had evaded his question, but I really do feel that way. Everybody knows the team was 1-10 last season. Everybody knows the offense was horrible. Everybody knows the best players from that team graduated. All has been well-chronicled in the pages of the P-S. But that was last year. The team is 0-0 this season. Does it need to be reminided in every preseason story of its 2005 failings? The players and coaches tend to look ahead; the media tend to look back.
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That noted, my sense is that this is an improved football team despite the losses to graduation. I think the defense will be solid again, I think Perry Patterson will be much improved, I think the stable of running backs is deep and that Delone Carter is the real deal, I think the receiving corps has been upgraded substantially. But I worry about the offensive line. I see great potential for this unit in the future with guys like Tucker Baumbach, Ryan Bartholomew and Jim McKenzie on board, but they are a year or two away, although expediency may dictate otherwise. In the meantime, the unit will have to find a way to give the upgrades around it time to shine. I worry that it will be unable to do so.
But, hey, it's August. The team is 0-0. Let the players and coaches have their say. We'll get ours soon enough.
An Answer Without An Answer
The verdict is in: Greg Robinson loves everyone:
Freshman Delone Carter will play in a three-man rotation at tailback for Syracuse University in the opener against Wake Forest. Head coach Greg Robinson, though, admitted Wednesday night that starting a true freshman in his first game leaves him anxious.Entering the sanctioned summer training period, the rumor mill was abuzz that Delone Carter would find his way onto the playing field in 2006, thus eliminating the possibility of a redshirt season. This premonition appears to have come true.
"I don't expect that," Robinson said.
So he'll either call sophomore Curtis Brinkley or Paul Chiara to be the Orange's starting tailback. Still, all three tailbacks are going to play, he said.
"I think Delone's going to play," Robinson said Wednesday night before practice. "To say right now he's going to start . . . to be the starting guy, there's a lot more on your plate. He'll be in the flow of things and we'll go from there
"Curtis has had a good camp. I feel Curtis Brinkley. I think Paul Chiara broke out a good run a couple of days ago, made a nice play on a check-down pass play to him yesterday. Delone Carter yesterday did two or three things that got everybody's attention. I think we're going to see three tailbacks in the game on Sept. 2."
Despite the significant gains Carter has made this summer, it should be noted that I am still uncomfortable with Carter potentially burning his redshirt. As noted in a previous essay, if Carter is truly the type of game changing back that far surpasses the talents of Curtis "Boonah" Brinkley and Paul Chiara, then Carter should play; if not, let him sit and learn:
Should Carter show flashes of prodigal talent during the summer, there is going to be a lot of pressure on head coach Greg Robinson to throw Carter into the mix, especially if neither Brinkley nor Chiara secures the starting position without question. Ideally, either Chiara or Brinkley will establish themselves as viable first and second options, thus allowing Carter to redshirt this season and apply some weight and resilience to his frame. If Carter truly is the kind of game changing back that those in the business believe he can become, there is no reason to force him onto the field before he is ready.Robinson's comments in today's edition of the Post-Standard, however, do not appear to be the result of community pressure to play Carter early. Rather, Robinson appears either truly enamored with Carter or unbelievable unimpressed with Chiara and Brinkley. Either way, the running back debate has been settled, albeit in an unsettled manner.
This is not to say that Carter should not see playing time if he is truly the strongest rusher on the depth chart. Freshman running backs in recent history have had success on the gridiron. However, the Orange program made the mistake of playing a highly rated recruit in Johnnie Morant early in his career when he was not ready to step onto the field. He lost a year of eligibility and only late in his career began achieving his potential. Hopefully, Greg Robinson will not make the same mistake with Carter this year.
Eds. Note: Does anyone know what Greg Robinson means about "feeling" Boonah Brinkley? This is the second time that Robinson has made such a statement about a player (most recently about Delone Carter). If this is an attempt at slang, it is the most awkward phrase ever created. Especially coming from Robinson, as his speech inflection and tone is eerily similar to that of Grady Little.
West Virginia Loves Tax Reform, Hates Syracuse
(Hat Tip: Orangeyes)
Dan Page, editor and publisher of The State Journal, waxes poetic on his favorite memories from West Virginia Mountaineer past:
With all eyes focusing on Morgantown Sept. 2, I wonder what memories the 60,000-plus spectators will carry away from the West Virginia-Marshall football game.That's some good, old fashioned disdain right there. To hate an entire state is impressive, especially since Syracuse has never been chartered as a public university.
The first of my many Mountaineer football memories came on Nov. 22, 1958. I remember the brisk Morgantown air crackling with excitement. Male students dressed in sports coats and ties and young women in wool suits, some with bright mum corsages, huddled together as they slowly made their way down steep steps to splintery bleachers.
The sing-song chorus from the student section was the strongest taunt in those days. It surely amused the Orangemen from Syracuse:
We don’t give a damn for the state of New York, state of New York, state of New York . . .
We don’t give a damn for the state of New York . . .
For we are the Mountaineers . . .
We are the Mountaineers . . . .