The View From Here |

The View From Here


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
This is my annual SU football preview, which i create for friends no longer living in this area and which I also like to post here.

The Situation

I’m a veteran of the MacPherson Era back in the 1980’s when the SU football program rebuilt itself into a national power, (or at least a respected team), and I’ve read about and even written about the early Schwartzwalder Era in the 1950’s when Ben resurrected us from the ashes and turned us into national champions. So I know something about rebuilding eras. They tend, at least at a school like Syracuse, which isn’t one of the football factories, to come in stages. And fans get irritated when we spend too much time in one stage before going onto the next. Revolutions don’t come from despair: they come from optimism. They are fueled by impatience. SU fans needed to understand the reality of the situation for ultimate success to be gained.

Ben Schwartzwalder took over a team that had gone 1-8 in 1948 and, with basically the same players, went 4-5 in 1949. Then he went 5-5, 5-4, (the first winning record in nine years), 7-3, (including losses to national champion Michigan State and national power Alabama in the Orange Bowl by a combined 13-109), 5-3-1, 4-4 and 5-3 before the real breakthrough occurred in Ben’s eighth season, (and Jim Brown’s senior year), going 7-1, (a 7-14 loss at Pitt) before facing Texas Christian- then as now a national power- in the Cotton Bowl and losing by a blocked extra point, 27-28. For a dozen years, 1956-1967, only six schools, Bowling Green, Mississippi, Arizona State, Dartmouth, Wyoming and Alabama had a better winning percentage than SU and only Mississippi and Alabama were considered “big time” schools. We were the best ,(big time), football program in the East and one of the three best in the country over that time.

Dick MacPherson took over a team that had had a losing record since the end of Ben’s glory era, (61-79-1) and in the year before he took over, when we went 5-6. Dick promptly went 4-6-1 and then 2-9. He opened his third season with a 6-17 loss at Temple to make his record 6-16-1. But we rallied to a 6-5 record, despite a 7-63 disaster at Nebraska. We went 6-5 again the next year, despite a 17-9 win over those same Cornhuskers in the Dome, (which was followed by three straight losses). The next year we were 7-3 and had accepted an invitation to the Cherry Bowl, (one of only 16 bowl games that season: this year there will be 34). We lost that night on a couple of long passes in the final minute to West Virginia, then got clobbered by Maryland in the bowl. We opened the 1986 season with four straight losses. We beat a terrible Missouri team to end the six game losing streak and then traveled to Penn State, (who we should have beaten the year before but fumbled the game away), and lost 3-42 to the eventual national champions. The Sack Mac pack was at the height of it’s power. Then we rallied to win 4 of 5 to end the year and went 11-0 the next season, including a 48-21 walloping of the Nittany Lions. It was Dick’s seventh season. It began a stretch of 15 straight winning seasons, something only Nebraska, Florida State and Michigan could match over that period.

I feel strongly that Doug Marrone will be able to produce that kind of success here. (Then the question will be: will we do what’s necessary to sustain that success or let it slip away again?) But I see no reason to think that the process will somehow be quicker that it was for Ben or Mac. We are still a mid-sized private school in an unglamorous, (if under-rated) location in a state that doesn’t produce as many Division One football prospects as other places do. Ben never recruited a significant player who wasn’t from New York or an adjacent state. George DeLeone owned New Jersey. The rise of Connecticut, Rutgers and Cincinnati make recruiting our normal areas more problematic. These things won’t prevent our success but creating it is probably more complicated than it was in prior eras.

I have a system for evaluating teams from not only the same year but from different years and even different eras. I call it “point differential rankings”. You look at the point differential between the subject team, (Syracuse in this case), and each opponent and compare that to each of the opponent’s other opponents. If Syracuse did better than anybody else, (that is they beat the opponent by more than anyone else or tied a team that beat everyone else or lost to a team that won all it’s games by a smaller margin than anybody else), they get a “1”. If one team did better, they get a “2”. If two teams were better, they get a “3” and so on. At the end of the season, you average up the ranking and take it to two places from the decimal. For example, the 1959 Syracuse team played 11 teams and beat 9 of them by more points than anybody else did. Penn State beat Holy Cross by more than SU did and Pittsburgh beat Penn State by more points that SU did. That’s 13 “ranking points” in 11 games or a rating of 1.18, which happens to be the second best point differential ranking of any major college football team in the post World War II era. The 1987 team had a PDR of 2.50, which is actually about average for a national championship team. But I don’t like to include teams that weren’t considered major college, Division 1A or FBS teams and since Colgate was Division 1AA, I reduced their PDR to 2.64.

With that as a guide, let’s look at the years 1949-1956, (the early Schwartzwalder period plus his breakthrough year), 1981-87 (same for Dick McPherson), and 2005-2010,
(The G-Rob period and Doug Marrone’s first two years), ranked by PDR.
1949 3.88 (it had been 7.38 in 1948), 1950 3.63, 1951 5.00, 1952 4.00, 1953 3.25, 1954 5.00, 1955 3.75, 1956 2.89. (One weakness of this system is that there are a greater number of games played now so a bad performance looks worse so the overall rankings in Ben’s era are a bit lower-better- that they might have been in later years. But you can still see the up and down pattern.)
1981 5.64, (Frank Maloney’s last team was 5.73) 1982 7.90, 1983 6.82, 1984 5.18, 1985 4.25, 1986 7.18, 1987 2.64.
2005 8.09, Paul Pasqualoni’s last team was 6.42), 2006 7.08, 2007 9.50, 2008 9.36, 2009 8.18, 2010 7.18. That’s very far from a breakthrough year. As a matter of fact, it’s tied for the 11th worst team in Syracuse history with 1986 with that 7.18 rating. Of course we went 11-0 the next year. But 1987 was the product of several years of building the program up. I don’t think we are there yet.

I think the 2010 team was probably more like the 1952 or 1984 teams and that we are a similar distance from the real breakthrough that will make us a consistently good football school again. It was also closer to the 4-8 team of 2009 than people realize. The 2009 team basically threw away the Minnesota and Louisville games with bad snaps on Marrone’s first play from scrimmage and on an extra point. That could have been a 6-6 team. Last year’s team won 13-9, 19-14 and 13-10 road games to go 7-5 and then won the bowl game in part because of a controversial call at the end of the game. If those games had gone the other way, we would not think the rebuilding program was so far along.

People like to think, “Hey! We went 4-8 in Doug’s first year and 8-5 in his second year. We’ll go 10-3 this year and who, knows, maybe 12-0 next year!” I just don’t see it. I think at best the big breakthrough where we will be good every year will come in the middle or latter half of his decade. Doug began his tenure 60 years after Ben did. His seventh year will be 2015, his eighth 2016. At best, Doug is now recruiting the players that will be part of the real breakthrough. For the time being, we will likely hover around .500 as Ben and Mac did, alternating encouraging games and stretches with discouraging ones. Sports is all about hope and SU fans need to remain hopeful but also realistic, lest their optimism turn into rebellion and ruin the process.

(I'm having trouble putting the rest of the report in "replies" so I'll make them separate posts)
Nice read. The only thing that would lead me to believe that Syracuse might break through sooner than expected is the relative weakness of the conference as a whole.
I don't think the BE is weak, it just doesn't have the top notch teams that everyone respects.
I'll try this again. This site- or somehting- seemed to go crazy when I tried to add to this a half hour ago. I'll continue in a separate post

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