Syracuse Football: What Options Does Syracuse Have (Option?)
Before 1987, Syracuse was a very similar program that it has been in the past several years–fighting for (rarer) bowl spots. Then, Don McPherson led Syracuse on a magical 1987 season that culminated with an 11-0 record and ultimately a tie with Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. A few years later, Marvin Graves would lead Syracuse to back-to-back 10-win seasons, two of just four such seasons in the Carrier Dome era. While Donovan McNabb’s NFL career gives him notoriety, it was Don McPherson that led Syracuse from being a regional also-ran to a team that could compete on a national level. In the years since McNabb, Syracuse has struggled to be above .500. There are anomalies, including a 10-win season and an 8-win season… and there is also the Greg Robinson era falling considerably on the bad side of the mediocre bell curve. In any event, the question is–how does Syracuse get back to being nationally relevant in football? Maybe it is as simple as going back to what worked in the 1980’s.
The Syracuse team in 1987 was dynamic. During the regular season, they scored less than 24 points once and gave up more than 21 points once. They were 10th in scoring on offense and 10th in scoring on defense. That will get it done. Of course, it is a different era now. In those days, 10th in scoring meant 31 points per game. Now, 50 teams average more than that per game. You have to put points on the board to win. Getting to 31 points per game (sadly, a 13-point per game increase in 2014) would mean mere mediocrity. How does Syracuse go from 120th in the nation in offense to something impressive?
Well, you are what you are. Syracuse cannot just take half of the best 25 players from New York and compete nationally. As a private school, it does not have hundreds of thousands of alumni. And Syracuse simply does not have the football program to win recruiting battles over the elite schools. Of course, it wasn’t in 1987 either.
What Syracuse did have was a unique offense. The option–and later the freeze option–were difficult for average teams to stop. While a school like Miami could rely on raw athleticism to defeat it, Syracuse was able to beat very good programs like Clemson and Florida.
Perhaps Syracuse should go back to being an option team.
Granted, few teams are using it. But sometimes that it the best situation–when the world “zigs,” you zag. Syracuse is not going to land a top 20 pocket passer. Syracuse is not going to land a top 20 dual-threat QB. Syracuse may be able to develop players into being drafted in the NFL (see Ryan Nassib), but Syracuse did just fine at a time when its QBs were not being groomed for NFL success (see McPherson, Graves).
And who is using an option right now? Think Georgia Tech and Navy. The downside with the option is that the ACC would have two teams using it. That would lead to more familiarity than otherwise. But it is still a battle for college kids to prepare for. And Navy’s option put 39 points up against Notre Dame, while Syracuse managed 15. And there is no reason why a Syracuse QB could not incorporate a passing threat into the more traditional option, as Don McPherson was able to do.
In fact, it is more likely that Syracuse can recruit the players to run an option–smaller offensive linemen and undersized running backs. This may not be what the NFL wants, but placing one or two players in each NFL draft has not led Syracuse to prominence either. Maybe the best option moving forward is the option.
What do you think? Would you like to see Syracuse go back to the option?