Dino Babers was the first person to say that 2016 was going to be a growing process for the Syracuse Orange football program. Even so, some of the blowout losses and a slew of injuries have taken their mental toll on the first-year Orange coach.
"It's been my most challenging year. I think mainly because of the process we're doing here and making sure everyone really understands how difficult this was to go from an option-based team to what we're doing on offense, 100 percent turnaround, 360-degree turnaround.
"From our defense to what they were doing last year, 360-degree turnaround. And then from a personnel, you have a lot of guys not playing the position they were brought here to play because they didn't fit the round pegs in holes of what we're trying to do offensively and defensively.
"That doesn't mean they're no good. It just means they were brought here for another reason."
This isn’t anything we didn’t already know, and Babers has said as much previously, but it’s still refreshing in a way to hear a head coach speak candidly about the progress his program needs to make. There isn’t a lot of “fight the fight” nonsense here.
The hope for this Saturday is that Syracuse can find a way to overcome the odds and beat the Pittsburgh Panthers, because doing so could still leave them in a position to go bowling at 5-7.
Babers is cognizant of this fact but really wants the team to focus on just playing a complete game, something they haven’t done in some time.
"When we started this trek in November, everyone was talking about bowl games, and i'm right there with you. I think what we need to talk about is just winning a football game and that's the most important thing right now and to make sure that if we don't get another opportunity that the last game that a lot of these seniors are going to play is on a winning note.
"When you look at our 12-game schedule, we've only been favored to win one game. For us to have [four] wins out of that situation with one game left to play, I think is a testament to the seniors and the staff and also that we're trending up and this is going to be something that we get done here and that we're going to change and this is going to be a winning football program once again."
Just in case you’re wondering, Babers wouldn’t say anything definite but he has no update on Eric Dungey and Zack Mahoney “most likely will be the starter.” So we’ll see how that goes.
However things shake out in the end, Babers said he’s appreciative of the effort from his players, especially in face of such long odds when the season began.
"I think we've got a room full of fighters. There's a good will about this football team, and I think they really want to be good.
"From a coaching standpoint, when you're in the ACC and you're playing with the upper echelon part of that conference, it reinforces exactly what I've always known, that you need big people to play this game.”
"You need people who are exceptional athletes who really, really, really want to be fantastic football players. I think we have a lot of that on this football, and I think we need to go out and get a lot."
Again, there’s that balance of integrity and support for the guys here while also acknowledging the cold, hard reality of the situation. It remains as refreshing now as it sounded in September.