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Dino Babers sees progress for Syracuse, but still eyeing bowl bid

Dino Babers spoke to the media on the ACC teleconference.

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Before Saturday’s matchup with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Syracuse Orange football head coach Dino Babers spoke to the media. With rising pressure to make a bowl game, injuries to key players have not aided any effort to reach six wins. But they’re still very much in the hunt.

Kendall Coleman is still not completely healthy

After injuring his right foot against LSU in September, sophomore defensive end Kendall Coleman finally returned last week against Florida State. Perhaps Syracuse’s best defensive end when healthy, he was obviously not the same player last weekend.

“He's out there doing his best, and he did a decent job at Florida State for his first time out. He needs to get back into conditioning a little bit,” Babers said. “His conditioning bothered him in that game, and that's to be expected when you've been out for a long period of time.”

With not many games left in the season, it is in the best benefit of the team that he can regain his prior form soon. Still, as Babers says, Coleman’s leadership is extremely valuable to the success of the Orange.

Babers said, “Kendall's leadership is what's so outstanding, and any time you have him on a trip, any time you have him in the locker room, any time you have him in a group, that group is going to be more attuned, be more responsible for doing things right and not doing things wrong.”

Still a sophomore, even if he is not able to come back to 100%, it is a positive to note that an underclassmen has this level of knowledge and experience for the future.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Babers sees progress from last season

With all five losses being one score or fewer, the Orange have yet to truly break out and win a close game on the road. Still, with only one road game remaining, they may not need any to make a bowl game. Wake Forest comes to the Dome this weekend and BC does too to close the season. Babers sees (like we do) that their single-digit defeats this year are still an improvement from last season.

“Last year we were getting beat very convincingly,” he said. “This year I would like to think that we've been in every single football game, and hopefully we don't have to wait until next year before we get on top of that and start winning some close ones.”

While Babers is correct in that the Orange have showed an improvement in terms of their competitiveness in games, they still need to win games to convince portions of the fan base. Close losses are still exciting and promising, but at some point you need to start winning those close games.

He also made a comment about millennials, which was refreshing in that it didn’t blame them for things (counter to one of the internet’s greatest traditions):

“We're doing things to change the culture, but I think the biggest thing, especially with the millennials, is seeing the results, and until we have something that we can grab on to, a piece of fruit, some low-hanging fruit and say here it is, we do this because we can achieve this right here, I think we're still on a journey until we can reach that point.”

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

See? Bowling is very important

For those who’ve been (somehow) saying for years that they’d rather not make a bowl at 5-7 or 6-6, Coach does not agree with your assessment.

“... I think that any time that you can get a team that hasn't been bowling in a while in a bowl game, those extra practices, the motivation that it gives the young men on the team, and the nudge or the extra boost that you get in recruiting is going to always help that program to either establish itself or reestablish itself as one of the better programs coming around.”

Translation: We’ll take the Quick Lane Bowl. We do not care.

Nothing confirmed on Eric Dungey just yet...

When asked about the comeback led by his junior quarterback last week, Babers admits he wasn’t sure how much he’d have Dungey out there following the injury. But he appreciates the effort put in on Saturday and knows the value he brings to this team -- even when not at full capabilities.

“He's a competitor. He's a battler,” Babers said. Obviously he is the straw that stirs the drink for us, and the way he competed in that situation, I didn't know if I'd have him for one series or two series, in the first half and not in the second half, and there he was at the end of the game driving us down to get us in field position for the winning field goal. I think he's a heck of a competitor, and I think that people around the conference are starting to recognize that.”

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Babers was also asked about Mahoney being ready to go. And while he’s comfortable with using him if needed, he’d still rather have Dungey out there. As he said, “There's a reason why one guy starts and there's a reason why another guy is a backup.”

First of all, at Syracuse University, that decision is not mine. That's our medical people. They make all those decisions. They merely tell me whether he can or cannot go, and they gave him the green light. Eric was all for it, and the only thing I wanted to make sure was that he stayed within himself and if he -- like he could protect himself, let me know and we'll try to win the game a different way.

Considering junior quarterback Dungey’s potential injury, the teams are near even now according to the odds (fluctuating between minus-1 for SU and a push). Without much time left to get to bowl eligibility, this is a must win for Syracuse this weekend.