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Syracuse Football: Three ways the 2016 season was a success/failure

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Glass half-full or glass half-empty?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have had a few days to process the utter absurdity of Syracuse’s historic 76-61 loss to Pittsburgh – the highest-scoring game in FBS history – it’s time for us to reflect on SU's season as a whole.

The Orange entered the 2016 season with a number of changes: new head coach, new offensive system, new defensive system, a number of new starters (especially on offense) and, of course, no more Riley Dixon.

The influx of change led to a new-found sense of hope among Syracuse fans, with some even predicting an 8-4 season (including John’s dog – ha, what an idiot. Amirite?). However, the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the Orange also led some to predict as poor as a 3-7 finish. The TNIAAM staff predictions were in the middle of both extremes, with the majority predicting a final record of 5-7.

Of course, Syracuse wasn’t quite able to reach 5-7. Instead the Orange finished 4-8 for the second consecutive season. But does that mean Syracuse’s season was a failure, or can it still be considered a success? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

SUCCESS

Offensive EXPLOSION

When Dino Babers was first announced as Syracuse’s new football coach, Orange fans dreamed of just how explosive Syracuse’s offense could become. Well, those dreams became a reality this season.

Despite disappearing in losses to Wake Forest and Clemson, the Orange still managed to average 441 yards per game, an improvement of 121 yards from the 2015 season. In addition, Syracuse scored more than 30 points five times this season, a feat the Orange accomplished just twice in 2015 (against Rhode Island and Virginia).

Babers tailored the offense around starting quarterback Eric Dungey and wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo and the two developed into one of the most lethal quarterback-wide receiver duos in Syracuse history. Prior to suffering a season-ending injury against Clemson, Dungey ranked near the top of the nation in terms of passing yards and was on pace to break multiple Syracuse passing records.

Etta-Tawo, of course, had the greatest season in Syracuse history for a receiver, breaking both the Syracuse single-season records for receptions and yards with three games to spare. He finished the season with 94 receptions for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Oh, and the Orange managed to score 61 points against Pittsburgh with their backup quarterback Zack Mahoney at the helm. (Come on, you didn't already forget about THAT, did you?)

Virginia Tech Win Shows Potential

Syracuse’s upset win over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech was one few saw coming (we sure didn’t). Although the Orange were a week removed from an embarrassing 28-9 loss to Wake Forest, and were two games away from an eventual 54-0 blowout loss to Clemson, SU's upset win over Virginia Tech should not be overlooked and be viewed as a fluke.

Instead, it should be considered a positive sign of what this young and inexperienced Orange team can accomplish when it achieves its full potential. While Syracuse entered the game as 22.5-point underdogs, the Orange played like the heavy favorites, never trailing throughout the entire 60-minute contest.

A makeshift injury-ravaged Syracuse defense held a Hokies offense that came into the game averaging 39 points to just 17. And even with Etta-Tawo being mostly held-in-check, Syracuse’s star wide receiver finished the game with only five catches for 54 yards, the Orange were still able to put up 31 points on a Virginia Tech defense that previously gave up on 15.7 per game.

While Syracuse's complete-game effort against Virginia Tech turned out to be a one-and-done affair, that one win shows just how much potential Syracuse has, and what the Orange could potentially achieve in the near future.

Keeping Tommy DeVito (as of now, *fingers crossed*)

When Babers first took over as Syracuse’s coach, one of his top priorities was to quickly get on the recruiting trail.

While, at first glance, it may seem like a stretch to say Syracuse’s performance on the field had a direct impact on its recruiting off of it, but in reality, it most likely did. Receiving a commitment from a player is only half the battle when it comes to the recruiting process. The next step is making sure you don’t lose him.

When highly-touted Class of 2017 quarterback Tommy DeVito first committed to Syracuse back in April, it was viewed as a solid commitment, but nothing outrageously special. However, throughout the summer and the fall season, the Dom Bosco Prep prospect continued his stellar play and rose in the recruiting ranks (he’s now rated as a 4-star prospect on ESPN). As a result, he had every opportunity to back-out of his commitment and consider other schools.

He didn’t (or at least, he hasn’t yet).

The fact Babers has been able to retain DeVito is a huge plus for Syracuse’s future – especially considering Dungey’s injury history. While there are many factors as to why DeVito has remained committed to the Orange, two he has gone on record saying are the same two reasons listed as above: the potential Syracuse’s offense has and the belief he’ll flourish playing in it, and being in attendance for, and watching firsthand, Syracuse’s upset win over Virginia Tech.

FAILURE

No Improvement Record-Wise

Syracuse finished the 2015 season with a poor 4-8 record, 2-6 in the ACC, and decided to cut ties with Shafer, as a result. The Orange then turned to the up-and-coming Babers, in hopes he’d be able to guide Syracuse to its former football glory. And in his first season Babers finished...4-8, and 2-6 in the ACC.

While it would have been foolish to expect an immediate turnaround, at least a one-win improvement would have been nice, no? How can the season be considered a success when Syracuse finished with literally the EXACT same record as the previous season?

In his previous head coaching stops, Babers got both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green above .500 in his first year at each school. In fact, up until this year, Babers never had a losing season as a head coach, entering the year with a career 37-16 record. He didn't have the same success in his first season at Syracuse, calling it his "most challenging year."

You play to win the game, and Syracuse simply didn’t do enough of that this year for the season to be considered a success.

Where Art Thou, Defense?

Just as Babers revamped Syracuse’s offense, he attempted to do so with the defense, albeit with slightly different results. For as good as the Orange’s offense was at times this season, its defense was just as – if not more – dreadful.

When he arrived at Syracuse, Babers confirmed he would be bringing with him his Tampa-2 defensive scheme – a system he first used while at Bowling Green. The Tampa-2 defense is a vastly different scheme than the one previously run by former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone and his defensive coordinator and eventual predecessor Scott Shafer.

Due to the coaching change, nearly every single player on Syracuse’s roster was recruited to play under a completely different defensive scheme. In addition, thanks to Babers’ fast-paced offense, his defense is typically forced to be on the field more than the national average. As a result, expectations were relatively low for Syracuse’s defense this season. However – despite bright spots against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech – as a whole, the defense was even more of a reliability than initially anticipated.

The Orange allowed 463 points over the course of the season – an average of nearly 39 points per game – the most in Syracuse history. Even more so, instead of improving over the course of the season, statistically-speaking, Syracuse actually got worse. The Orange gave up at least 45 points in six games this season, three of which came over Syracuse’s final four games – including the school-record 76 points Pittsburgh scored against the Orange on Saturday (in fairness, seven of those points came on a Zack Mahoney pick-six).

Down Goes Dungey

While Etta-Tawo may have been Syracuse’s best player, Dungey was the leader and the heart and soul of this Syracuse offense. The sophomore quarterback proved the flashes Syracuse fans saw over the 2015 season were real. That is why it was – or it should have been – a priority to keep Dungey healthy.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

No such luck.

For the second straight year, Dungey saw his season cut short due to injury. After missing four games in 2015 due to two concussions, the talented quarterback sat out three games this season, in addition to missing nearly all of Syracuse’s loss to Clemson. While Babers never specified the extent of Dungey’s injury, the fact the sophomore quarterback failed to finish the season isn’t a positive sign – even if it isn’t necessarily career-ending.

Babers repeatedly said he didn’t want to limit Dungey’s penchant for runs, but rather run smarter. However, the stubborn quarterback repeatedly refused to slide at the end of his runs, putting his body in harm’s way time and time again. The fact that Syracuse would have made a bowl game had they finished the season 5-6, and had three opportunities after the loss to Clemson to get there, only begs the question would the season have played out differently had Dungey not been injured? And if that’s the case, how can it be considered a success?

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Now, it’s time for you to weigh in. Was this season a success, or was it a failure? Vote below.