Recap: Despite no record change from previous two seasons, improvement seen in Babers’ family
Recap: Improvement seen in Babers' family
As of 3:20 p.m. on Nov. 25, Syracuse’s football season was finished. In what could certainly be defined as a whirlwind two and a half months for the Orange, Syracuse University remained ineligible for postseason football.
Going into Dino Babers’ second year as head football coach, there was a lot of optimism in what was a difficult schedule on paper.
The team got off to a good start, winning its fourth straight season opener with a commanding 50-7 win over Central Connecticut State University. Junior quarterback Eric Dungey, having shown flashes early in the last season, looked to continue where he left off before injuries hampered his season.
This opening season confidence was quickly squished. Former head coach Scott Shafer, now defensive coordinator for Middle Tennessee State University, returned to the Carrier Dome seeking revenge on his former employers. The game appeared to be going against Syracuse right from the get-go as the Orange gave up a safety following a botched snap. And while Syracuse at one point was up 23-16, Middle Tennessee scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to provide separation from Syracuse and give Shafer a win against his former team. At this point, Syracuse was 1-1 and their path toward six wins had become a lot more challenging.
But the Orange responded in its next two games. Syracuse won its third straight home game comfortably, blowing away the Central Michigan Chippeawas 41-17. Dungey dominated in this game, combining his throwing strength and running speed. In Syracuse’s first road game, the team traveled to Baton Rouge to face Louisiana State University. The then-ranked Tigers welcomed the Orange in front of more than 90,000 fans, but Syracuse competed until the final whistle, losing 35-26.
An away loss the next weekend to North Carolina State was also closer than many would have expected, this time by one possession at 33-25. Syracuse had begun to garner the reputation of coming back in games late to compete. These positives would be useful as the Orange would be home the next two games
The first home ACC game was against Pittsburgh, and the focus was to be more defensive compared to last season’s 76-61 drubbing to the Panthers. A combination of solid defense and Dungey dominance helped SU snap a four-game losing streak to the Panthers, winning 27-24. At 3-3, Syracuse would need to find one or two key victories to improve on last season. Welcoming the defending national champions Clemson to the Loud House, Syracuse had the opportunity to grab that key victory. And that is exactly what happened as Syracuse led the entire game and defeated the then-No, 2 team in the country 27-24. Suddenly, Syracuse was 4-3 and would have plentiful opportunities to make its first bowl game since 2013.
Second half struggles
But if anyone has followed Syracuse in the past few seasons, they know the team has struggled in the second half of the season. While Syracuse remained within one score against Miami (27-19) and Florida State (27-24) in consecutive games down in Florida, the Orange failed to win any of these key games away from home.
And in the final three games of the season, Syracuse found itself needing two wins to become bowl-eligible. But as Dungey became injured and the defense struggled to contain, the second half season problems continued. Allowing 63 points to Wake Forest and 42 points to Boston College highlighted the defensive struggles for the Orange. But nothing seemed to work at Louisville with 46 points separating the two teams when the game finished 56-10.
Coach Dino Babers remains positive though. Despite losing three-time captain Zaire Franklin, his linebacker partner Parris Bennett both on-field quarterback and off-field mentor Zack Mahoney and other influential players, Babers is still looking forward. With three consecutive 4-8 seasons, Babers said after the game against Boston College that the 2018 season will be one Syracuse fans will remember for a very long time.
Syracuse opens the 2018 season on Sept. 1 at Western Michigan, the first season opener away from the Carrier Dome since 2013 vs. Penn State University.