It's very disheartening for a rebuilding college football program to lose its season opener on a nine-yard touchdown reception with 44 seconds remaining in the game. It's especially hard knowing if one of just four huge play were prevented -- and all of them were very preventable -- the win-loss record would read 1-0, not 0-1.
But despite what many will think, a program's head coach doesn't always judge his team's progress by the game's final score.
"I feel like we are heading in the right direction," said Syracuse Orange head coach Doug Marrone on Monday. "We have more things to build on than we had in the past."
In most cases, those kind of comments come from a head coach after a victory, one that builds confidence and helps a team move forward to bigger and better things. But Marrone's comments came days after Saturday's heart-breaking, season-opening loss, 42-41, to the visiting Northwestern Wildcats.
The loss had multiple layers to it, as the Orange's offense set a handful of school records and helped the team rally from a 22-point, second half deficit. But it was a handful of mental mistakes, coming from all three phases of Syracuse's game, that did the Orange in.
"What I told the players when I met with them is obviously we're unhappy, we're disappointed but the one thing we cannot be is discouraged," said Marrone.
That wasn't the feeling Marrone had after last season's opener, a sloppy overtime victory, 36-29, over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Atlantic Coast Conference foe out gained the Orange in total yards (406-299) and first downs (23-15), but lost after blowing a 15-point, second-half lead.
Despite the win, Marrone said his team had "a lot of work to do" after the game. On Saturday, things were a bit more upbeat for the fourth-year headman. And Marrone admitted Monday there was a different feeling.
"Even though we won the game last year, I had a major concern about the direction we were headed," said Marrone. "And the team would know, because of private meetings, I addressed those situations last year with them."
"I didn't feel that way about this team. I think we worked extremely hard when the season was over. We had good communication, we worked very well together. So, I am very encouraged about this football team and that was my message to them."
This time, SU may have been on the wrong end of a season-opening thriller, but in the end the program maybe better off heading into Week 2.