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Syracuse may still win Dino Babers or Scott Frost debate with UCF

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For what it’s worth, I think we’re well-positioned, anyway...

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

As you’ve probably noticed by now, Scott Frost just got the Nebraska Cornhuskers job after a successful two-year run with the UCF Knights. After the Knights went 0-12 in 2015, they hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Frost and compiled an 18-7 record with him at the helm (including going 12-0 this year).

This is all notable because of the situation the Syracuse Orange were in two years ago.

At one point in SU’s coaching search, we were pretty sure Frost was our guy and Dino Babers was headed to UCF. Then suddenly, they sort of switched places. We’re all still pretty pleased with how things turned out (right?), but as Sean alluded to at the time, these two coaches are pretty certain to be linked via what-if in Orange fans’ minds for some time.

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

That feeling intensifies a bit after Frost led the Knights to an unbeaten season in year two. No one’s claiming that he’d have done the same thing for the Orange. But following another bowl-less campaign, it does make one wonder if SU could’ve jumped to the postseason sooner with Frost. And on top of that, would jumping to the postseason sooner have been a better outcome?

In the short-term, sure. But in the long-term, we’ll have to wait and see. UCF is one of the country’s largest schools, with a promising football outlook. But it’s hard to say right now that this 12-0 season means anything for the product five years from now. Just a few seasons ago, the Knights were beating Baylor in a BCS Bowl, and they still managed to drop to 0-12 soon after.

What’s telling about how successful a coach’s tenure was isn’t necessarily the wins he left behind or the job he gets as a result. It’s the culture change he’s able to put in place after he’s gone.

For UCF, we’ll see if the level of excellence Frost elevated the program to can hold with him out of the picture. At Syracuse, that culture change is just starting to take hold under Babers. He’s playing the long game, instead of the short-term fix (not to say that Frost took the latter approach).

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

If Frost had come to Syracuse, perhaps he would’ve helped a quick reset for the Orange. But it’s clear that Babers has been building a system and changing a culture and a way of approaching the game. We’ve seen the highs of when that works (Virginia Tech, Clemson) and the lows of when it does (the last three games of this season). You can’t necessarily judge Dino’s finished product yet, because it truly isn’t done. For Frost, who knows how far along he would’ve been after two years...

Also, if he had made significant progress in the win column, it’s probable that he’d have left Syracuse for Nebraska (his alma mater) anyway. Syracuse doesn’t need a quick fix. Doug Marrone was in the middle of a long repair before departing, and the collapse right after showed how far off things were. If Frost had come in and found quick success, it might have set us up to be in the same place shortly after -- albeit with greater (and maybe less realistic) expectations of what could be.

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

This isn’t to say I’m glad we didn’t make a bowl game this year. Or say that UCF’s unlucky for having the season they did. It’s to make the point that Frost’s UCF tenure can be seen as a success, AND Babers’s time at Syracuse can eventually be viewed just as positively too, even if it takes the latter a bit longer.

Whether knowingly or not, Syracuse played the long game with Babers, and now we’ll wait for the results. We’ve already started to see glimmers of what this program could be at its height, and I’m willing to bet with near-certainty we’ll see even more in 2018. If UCF manages to keep up this momentum without Frost, then more power to them. But SU was no two-year fix in 2015, and it’s not one now. I’m still happy to bank on Dino’s approach as the one better suited for the Orange’s long-term well-being.