The No. 13 Orange haven’t been relevant on the national scale since Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson were working their magic in the ’80s and ’90s.
The re-birth of Syracuse football has been one of the best stories of the season thus far. The No. 13 Orange haven’t been relevant on the national scale since the days when Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson were working their magic in upstate New York back in the ’80s and ’90s.
Over the past 16 years, the program has finished with a winning record only three times. And after consecutive 4-8 finishes the last two years under head coach Dino Babers, many people didn’t think this year would be any different.
But there have been signs along the way that the Orange would soon be turning a corner.
Last October, they shocked the undefeated defending national champion Clemson Tigers, 27-24, with quarterback Eric Dungey throwing for 278 yards and three touchdowns. Clemson had won 12 consecutive games on the road and 11 straight overall heading into that game, which was the longest active winning streak in the nation at the time.
Syracuse came into that contest as a heavy underdog last year. But inside their locker room, head coach Dino Babers had long been saying that this day would one day come.
“Close your eyes and visualize this,” Babers said during his introductory press conference upon being named the head coach in 2015. “You’re in the Carrier Dome and the feeling is electric… You have a defense that is relentless (and) you have an offense that will not huddle. And you have a game that is faster than you have ever seen on turf.”
“Open your eyes,” he continued. “That is going to be a reality. That is going to be Syracuse football.”
It seems as if his vision has now come to fruition.
Babers was widely recognized as one of the top young head coaching candidates in the country after changing the cultures and fielding excellent teams during his previous stints at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. In both of his years at Eastern Illinois in 2012 and 2013, he led the Panthers to the FCS playoffs. In 2015, in only his second year at Bowling Green, he led them to the Mid-American Conference championship.
Now, in only his third year at Syracuse, he’s got the Carrier Dome rocking and the program poised for a remarkable resurgence.
This year, the ‘Cuse boasts an offense that ranks No. 15 nationally with 478.2 yards per game, with Dungey passing for 2,001 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 628 and 10 scores thus far. Senior wide receiver Jamal Custis has 40 receptions for 734 yards, averaging 18.4 yards per catch and 81.6 yards per game.
“That’s what big-time quarterbacks do,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers told the media this week. “That’s what the Mannings and all those quarterbacks do. They manage the game. I’m tickled pink about the way he’s playing.”
And long-suffering fans of Syracuse football are more than tickled pink about where the program could be heading.
On Friday night, they face off against a Louisville team that has struggled mightily with the departure of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals are winless in the ACC and have an abysmal overall record of 2-7. With last week’s 77-16 beatdown that they suffered at the hands of Clemson, Louisville has now lost six straight, the program’s longest losing streak in 20 years.
But it’s safe to say that Babers’ squad will not be looking past the ‘Ville. The Cardinals have beaten Syracuse four straight times, including a 56-10 rout last year. In their last two games against Louisville, the Orange have lost by a combined score of 118-38 while allowing 1,572 yards.
So cue up some James Brown, as they’ll be looking for some serious revenge, like Anthony when he returned home from Vietnam to exact some payback on Cowboy in Dead Presidents.
After this weekend, Syracuse will be back in the national spotlight with marquee matchups to close out the regular season against No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 22 Boston College. If they can pull off the upset against a formidable Fighting Irish squad in Yankee Stadium and proceed to dispose of an excellent BC team, they’d be looking at a New Year’s Six bowl and a Top Ten ranking.
It would be easy for the Orange to look past this weekend, with so much on the line in the weeks ahead. But given what Babers has accomplished and the solid foundation he’s been laying for the re-awakening of Syracuse football, it’s safe to assume that they’ll handle their business before setting their eyes on a much bigger prize.
Dino told ya’ll, during his introductory press conference, that this day would soon be coming. But to paraphrase the Madd Rapper, most of ya’ll wasn’t sittin’ here recognizin’!!!