Back in August, barely two weeks before the start of the 2011 college football season, I spent the afternoon on the Syracuse campus and on the fields behind Manley Field House with the Orange at practice.
Right around the time it dawned on me, "Holy cow, these guys are young," I was invited to have a chat with Floyd Little, Syracuse's only three-time All-American at a single position. He rejoined his alma mater in spring 2011 as a special assistant to the athletic director.
I told him how much I had enjoyed his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech. An assistant coach overheard me and said, "You should have heard the one he gave us yesterday." Then I asked Little what he thought of the team in front of him.
"We're two years away," said the 69-year-old, looking at least 20 years younger. "We won eight games last year. Won a bowl game. Because of that, people are going to have maybe too-high expectations for 2011. But this year, we'll struggle a bit."
He talked about the youth on the field, the lack of depth and the uphill climb coach Doug Marrone, whom Little helped hire, faced in 2011, the third year of his program reconstruction project.
"I don't think people outside the program realized how much of a hole he was given to dig out of. Yeah, we'll struggle a bit this year. Not early, but likely in the second half of the season. Next year, though, next year we're finally going to start getting around that corner we've been trying to turn for so long."
Just as Little predicted, the Orange won five of their first seven, including a huge upset of 11th-ranked West Virginia. Then they lost five straight to end the year 5-7 and tied for last in the Big East. But all I heard as I watched them was "Next year, though, next year ..."
Throughout the nation, there are programs that enter a season knowing any short-term success is merely a bonus. Their fan bases might expect more, but, inside the coach's office, people know the Orange are going to have to take it on the chin for a season as they build toward the next. Last year, Syracuse knew it was one of those teams. This year, it will join its fans in believing the results should start coming now.
What teams do I foresee finally turning the proverbial corner? So glad you asked
Past five years: 22-28
Strengths: Quarterback, offensive and defensive lines
Weaknesses: Receiving corps, linebackers
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