Some 41 days ago there were rumblings, low booms of distant thunder, about Dino Babers and the impending offseason. The talk centering on whether the coach would, or even could, leave the Syracuse Orange for some greener Power Five pasture. It was the height of football euphoria in central New York at the time, when anything seemed possible.
Since then, in the last month and ten days after beating Clemson, there’s been yet another free fall. Zero wins since October 13. All of which brings with it a different type of question for Syracuse’s head man. With the understanding he clearly needs to address the problems with his defense, the center of any football universe always revolves around the quarterback. What’s Bill Belichick without Tom Brady? Bill Walsh sans Joe Montana? Pfft… Defenses win championships, yes, but more-than-competent quarterbacks are necessities on the way to those titles.
The quarterback's Sun to Babers's Earth, though, might just be an unknown right now.
Should Syracuse stick with Eric Dungey, the soon-to-be senior, who will enter August camp with three years of starting under his belt. He’ll be looking to break records and break into a bowl berth during his final season. The guy who, when on the field, gives the Orange a chance to beat just about any team on the schedule, just ask those Tigers. Dungey pulls rabbits out of hats more often than any magician not named Troy Nunes. And while his sometimes borderline reckless play has cost him dearly, it's likely that style is why SU beat the second-ranked team in the land and why the Orange came thisclose to beating Miami in Florida.
It’s what partially set off the soft roars about Babers’ future in the first place. Dungey's theatrics, or really just his playing makes Syracuse a better team.
But obviously, the "playing" part of the equation has become a major issue. It's now three years in a row Dungey has missed significant time -- with it now expected that he will not suit up against Boston College. It's clear that his moves on a football field, whether ad-libbed or following Babers's script, make it hard from him to simply stay on the football field.
The pressure of year three is a white-water rapid compared to the lazy river of year two as coach. All of which could very well send Babers to the bullpen in order to call on the soon-to-be-redshirt-freshman, Tommy Devito. The kid at point coveted by some big name schools, including Texas A&M and Ole Miss, has already been marinating, slow cooking on the SU sidelines. A talent like his, with the hype machine cranking in high school, has to be ready to serve up his talents on a silver platter to Syracuse. A player who no doubt has visions of not just helping SU win games later, but doing so immediately.
Dungey or DeVito? DeVito or Dungey?
Maybe DeVito is content to sit in idle for yet another year. Maybe there’s really not any type of debate at all. Anyway, is it fair to push Dungey out after he's given so much for the program? He was the one who helped will the Orange to its biggest victory in over three decades. His stats are proof positive he's worthy of remaining starter.
Just the same, though, if DeVito is the real deal (and there's no reason yet to think otherwise), then does Babers really want him sitting out for two years? Especially with the worry that Dungey's next play might be his last? It's one thing to miss a season that can be classified as a redshirt to watch Dungey, but the second the game Saturday ends, the clock really begins ticking on Devito.
The other part of the potential dilemma facing Babers is the schedule.
Dungey has faced something of a Murderer’s Row of opponents over the years, including a trip to LSU this season. But next year, the most difficult non-conference game will probably be a trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. Removing the fact that injuries can happen at any point against any team, Dungey teeing up against Western Michigan, Wagner and Connecticut could lead to "Madden NFL on rookie" type numbers for No. 2.
Then again, having rather confectionery-sugar-like September might be the best way to introduce a rookie to the world of FBS football: cupcakes to fatten his confidence up on. Syracuse could stay off the radar, work out the early-season kinks all while letting DeVito take control of the team and the program.
It’s all interesting, this answer that has to come one way or another. Babers is the king of the kingdom and heavy is the crown, even in place like Syracuse. A program which hasn’t been a national power in years still has expectations, low they may be.
Just look at that flicker of something, a flash of lightning with the claps of thunder about six or seven weeks ago. That stoked the fires of many SU fans. Many days later now, Babers has to be thinking about what’s next, about potentially altering the direction of the program for years to come.
Dungey or DeVito. DeVito or Dungey.
It’s just a matter of time now. Oh, about 283 days until game one of 2018, if you’re counting.