It’s been August for a few weeks now, which means both professional and college Football season are right around the corner, and practice has been kicking into high gear across the country. In case you haven’t noticed, I have made it quite apparent that I happen to be a big time Syracuse Orange fan.
With that, I always look to see the seed of change with my beloved Orange–or the Orangemen back in their hayday–and hope that they maybe show a glimpse from the glory days, when stars like Marvin Harrison, Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney were leading Syracuse to contention atop the Big East Conference.
Sadly, a lot has changed with the Syracuse football program since those days. Due to conference realignments, the Big East football conference is now defunct, and Syracuse is now a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and struggling to find their place in their new home… Football-wise at least. The basketball program is doing just fine, but that’s a topic for another day.
Takeaways from Last Season
2015 was a season that was marred by multiple injuries, especially at Quarterback. This was in large part due to the ineffectiveness of the offensive line (more on them later). Syracuse started the season white hot, winning their first three games, including this overtime thriller to Central Michigan. It was the first time since the mid-90s that Syracuse had started its football season 3-0. However, it would be a long tumultuous road to the end of the season, as Syracuse went on to lose their next seven in a row–before winning the final game of the year against Boston College (a game that I happened to attend)> Overall, the team finished 4-8, and just 2-6 in the ACC.
With their second consecutive losing season in the books, the University knew that a change was needed, and that meant that then Head Coach Scott Shafer needed to be dismissed at season’s end.
The Shining Stars of the Orange
Despite the decimated roster, there were a couple of bright spots for Syracuse. Clearly, they appeared to have depth at Quarterback, which turned out to be needed during the year. One player that stood out was freshman Quarterback Eric Dungey, who took over the reigns at when Senior Terrell Hunt went down for the year with another leg injur. Dungey did something that I really havent seen from the team in a while–he gave the Syracuse offense a legitimate chance to win games. He was explosive, could throw the ball and oh he could also run! His athleticism alone more-or-less gave the team a fighting chance, and helped them at least be competitive against some of the other schools in the ACC.
But let’s face the music: too many inconsistencies plagued the Orange last year. Their O-line was horrific, allowing 23 sacks, and, just simply put, they could not protect their Quarterbacks. By season’s end, the Orange had to shelve Dungey because he suffered too many concussions for one season. To throw salt onto that open wound, Syracuse would, on more than one occasion, have to rely on fifth-string Quarterback (fifth STRING!) Zach Mahoney to be their starting QB. Now, dont get me wrong, Mahoney put up a valiant effort when he played–his numbers weren’t at all terrible either–but you’re not going to win games with a fifth string, “preferred” walk-on QB!. I mean…maybe if you are Alabama, but not at Syracuse!
Also, even at the college level, defense wins games. Boy, Syracuse did a really poor job of executing on defense too–Especially against the Pitts, Virginias and North Carolina States of the ACC. Those were the games they needed to win if they were going to compete, and possibly become bowl eligible. Just look at the 3OT loss to Virginia! They had that game won! THE REFS HAD THAT GAME FIXED! DONT TELL ME TO RELAX! IM GOING TO TALK ABOUT WHATEVER I FUC-
Sorry, lost my bearings there for a second. I told you I am a very passionate syracuse fan! As I was alluding to, when it came time for the Orange to face the powerhouse schools on their schedule–like LSU, Clemson, Florida State and Louisville–as WWE Chairman Vince McMahaon would have so easily put it, they had… NO CHANCE IN HELL! Therefore, they needed to win those other match ups, which they didn’t. As I said, the losses led to Shafer being dismissed, which ultimately ushered in the newest era of Syracuse football.
Enter Dino Babers
This offseason, Syracuse began its search for the next head coach to try and lead them out of the basement. Then athletic director Mark Coyle, who has since left Syracuse to fulfill his dream of being an….Athletic director for the University of Minnesota, chose Dino Babers, a man with no prior ties to the University to lead the Orange, which was a little peculiar for them. Either way, Babers also got the overdue honor of becoming the first African American head coach in the program’s history.
Babers does have plenty of experience, though. He’s spent 25 years as an assistant coach–including four seasons under Art Biles. Babers is known for having a unique offensive style, and impressive resume of turning around smaller programs. He uses an up-tempo spread with a pro style of offense. During his short tenure as head coach at Bowling Green, he had his team ranked fourth in the nation in total offense, averaging 561 yards per game.
Anything that could get the Orange remotely close to numbers like those would be considered a triumph by any true Syracuse supporter. The SU offense was outgained by almost 2,000 yards in total offense last season. They also only averaged 5.1 yards per play, while allowing 6.2 on defense.
This new type of hurry-up spread offense has also thrived at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and Tulsa–places at which Babers has been a head coach. He implemented this style of offense and turned those programs around for the better. While he does face many uphill challenges in coming to Syracuse, he does luckily have a few toys at his to play with in his arsenal.
Outlook to 2016 and Beyond
Let’s get back to Quarterback Eric Dungey, who emerged as a solid leader as a freshman after replacing senior starter Terrel Hunt in last season’s opener. Dungey put up impressive numbers as a freshman, throwing for 1,298 yards passing and running for 351 more, plus that one sick rushing touchdown.
Syracuse has three other solid returning players in Jordan Fredericks (Syracuse’s leading rusher in 2015), George Morris, Dontae Strickland. Another solid option is incoming Freshman Moe Neal, who has shown a ton of promise since his debut in the spring scrimmage and has continued to surge in preseason practices.
The real cream of the crop will come from a talented group of wide receivers. Steve Ishmael led the way last year (39 catches for 570 yards and seven TDs), followed by Brisly Estime and the versatile Ervin Philips (29 catches for 286 and five TDs), who can run the ball as well as catch (he also racked up 234 yards on the ground with 3 rushing touchdowns).
These are just some of the toys at Babers disposal, as he has also done a solid job of preparing the Orange for the next couple years with his recruiting. This upcoming recruiting class is headlined by Elite 11 quarterback Tommy DeVito, and will set the foundation for what hopes to be a successful tenure for Coach Babers at Syracuse.
Unfortunately, we cannot look to the future just yet, as Syracuse will need to focus on the season at hand. So far, the beat writers have not been too kind to the Orange this year. Many have them pegged to win just 3 or 4 games. They they will face one of the most difficult schedules in the ACC–and maybe in the nation–as they will be going against the likes of Florida State, Norte Dame (a game i’ll be attending), Clemson and Louisville.
Despite everything that has been reported about how Syracuse will perform this year, I always find myself to be a glass half full kind of guy who tries to put a positive spin on things. I feel that they will outperform their what their critics have predicted. I mean, look at what Coach Babers did when he was coaching at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. Sure, it wont be easy, but the good things in life never come easy. So, to quote the ever famous Lou Brown: “Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat!”
Here’s hoping that the a Orange can surprise a lot of people, and give the fans something to cheer about!
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