Once the Syracuse Orange hired Dino Babers, much attention was paid to the apparent year two bump his teams had experienced at previous stops. The year two hype train got us all caught up -- and for good reason. It seemed like an attainable goal with a set date(s), games four through six. Even when the timeline was pushed a little due to injury, it was fine.
As we enter “year two, game 11” there are still questions about portions of the offense, but they’re easily addressed. Along with injuries (especially to Eric Dungey), SU’s offensive line has struggled and the run game has lagged as a result. Dungey’s own skill set not being a perfect match for the system has further changed the trajectory somewhat as well.
At 4-6, it’s going to take a Herculean effort for Syracuse to make a bowl game. But the team is clearly improved when you look at the results. I personally think that’s enough, though some fans are getting restless about when this surge is going to occur. It’s only natural to wonder. And given the glimpses of excellence we’ve witnessed, the pieces are obviously there, even if they won’t completely come together just yet.
Two reference points we can use to gain some insights are Babers’s two previous head coaching stops, Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois:
Using just raw offensive yards-per-game, Bowling Green averaged 433 yards per game in 2014 (44th overall), and 547 per game in 2015 (4th overall). That’s a 114-yard jump from one year to the next, with a fifth-year senior quarterback, veteran receivers and veteran running backs. It’s also against MAC competition, for the most part. But both seasons were. The uptick in outputs are comparable.
The upticks also resulted in more wins. After going 8-6 in 2014, the Falcons went 10-3 in 2015, including a MAC championship in his final game as coach.
Similarly, EIU manage to jump from 471 yards per game in 2012, to 589 in 2013. That’s FCS, sure. But massive yardage jumps led to more opportunities to score and more wins. Plus, the team was well manned by future NFL quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They went from 7-5 in year one, to 12-2 in year two. The FCS allows for more frequent swings like this. However, it’s still impressive to see production and wins jump like that anywhere.
So where does Syracuse currently stack up?
Wins currently sit at the same mark, with the potential to go as high as seven with a bowl game (that’s stretching, clearly). The Orange averaged 441 yards per game last season, and this year the number sits at 472. That’s a jump of 20 spots nationally from 42nd to 21st. But the efficiency (and scoring) isn’t necessarily there. Bill C.’s S&P+ ranks us just 62nd overall on offense.
As a recent comment conversation (from Orangeman: Fighter of the Nightman and others) brought up, though, another apt comparison is Baylor in year two under Art Briles. While Babers has become synonymous with an up-tempo offense, he didn’t trend that way until working under Briles at Baylor. And in year two, that system... actually looked pretty similar to what we’re seeing now from Syracuse, if not significantly worse:
2009 Baylor: 4-8 (1-7 Big 12)
- Yards per game: 343 (85th)
- Total plays: 777 (104th)
- Rushing yards per game: 101 (108th)
- Passing yards per game: 242 (37th)
- Points per game: 21 (101st)
After a three-point win at Wake Forest to start the year, the Bears would proceed to lose by eight to UConn. They’d win the next two against overmatched non-conference foes, then lose seven of eight Big 12 games. Baylor topped 20 points just once in those games (a 40-32 win over Missouri). The Bears lost all but one other league game by at least 10 points.
And this was with immediate access to Texas recruits who were more tailored to the system. That’s not limited to what Briles could bring in, either. But what he already had on the roster as well.
As you know, Briles (with Babers on staff) eventually put it all together, upped the level of recruiting and the program took off. There are quite a few reprehensible things about Baylor in there as well, so this isn’t to give them a free pass for those horrible acts. It’s simply to compare on-field outputs in year two of a system.
Taking focus away from the offense for one second, there also wasn’t the additional adjustment of switching over from a blitz-heavy 4-3 to a Tampa-2.
While Baylor may not have inherited the caliber of talent that Babers did at some positions (linebacker, wide receiver), it would stand to reason that getting the team to look like what he wanted was still a bit easier — and yet it still took more time to get the sorts of results that Babers has seen already at Syracuse.
These things take time. It’s clear that there’s still a little more work left to do to pull everything together. Maybe that “year two bump” turns into more of a “year three improvement.” If so, that works. We’ll just be busy aggravating playoff teams in the meantime.