When Dino Babers arrived as Syracuse Orange head football coach, he asked for patience and “belief without evidence” from SU fans. At times last season, we saw just how far that patience was going to be tested -- in the form of blowout losses, defensive lapses and some very trying post-game venting on Saturdays.
Babers probably absorbed a fair share of that negativity as well. And it seems like he may be in the process of speeding up the rebuild.
Yesterday, JUCO defensive end Josh Allen was the latest addition in an offseason full of transfers for the Orange. He’s actually the eighth inbound transfer for Syracuse (and sixth JUCO) joining the program in 2017. All but one of those (tight end Ravian Pierce) is on the defensive side of the football.
That won’t surprise those of us that watched SU’s defense last year. But when you look at the returning experience -- second-most returning production of any D in the country -- the need for the influx would seem questionable.
Largely, though, it’s about depth. And allowing the program’s young talent in the secondary and on the line develop. Because despite the large amount of returning numbers, the large majority of the names on the spring two-deep depth chart (for those two position groups) are sophomores.
It’s also about this team turning the corner a bit sooner, or at least keeping up with the incredibly difficult schedule they’ll face this fall (you really didn’t think you’d get through this piece without me mentioning the schedule, did you?).
But even with all of those factors, this is still an unprecedented move for Babers as a head coach. Last year, he brought in just two transfers (Amba Etta-Tawo and De’Jon Wilson), and both of them were of the graduate variety. With Bowling Green in 2015, he also had two. And 2014 featured none at all with the Falcons.
So this isn’t a calling card of Babers, or a demand of the system. Year two leaps in progress seem to be far more about the roster’s adaptive abilities than bringing in a ton of new faces.
No, this is Babers changing things up -- for himself and the roster — and thinking on his feet with how to compete now and ramp up this rebuild. Last week, Ari talked about Babers’s flexibility as a coach with regard to his system and utilizing tight ends. The program’s talked up schedule difficulty this offseason. The coach himself has mentioned it as a point of pride, as has the program’s social media feed and numerous signees.
Talk only goes so far. And if you can’t at least compete (if not win) with said schedule, you’re just the kid who takes pride in getting beaten up on the playground every day.
So this is very much doing everything to avoid that. Babers can’t change the rules of the game. He can’t speed up how quickly his high school recruits are ready to jump in and play at a high level. He can’t adjust this year’s schedule, or much of next year’s either. And he certainly can’t move Syracuse out of the ACC.
But he can change the math. By thinking about the team’s approach differently. From going for it on fourth down, to simply putting putting his foot on the gas up one, instead of coasting to a conservative victory. To understanding that talent and experience will matter more in the short-term, helping him get the even more talented freshman recruits in the coming years.
He needs the competitive results and wins and menial bowl invites now, to get the big recruits, bigger wins and even bigger bowl invites later.
College football is a sport where winning is the only thing that really matters. The last head coach here, Scott Shafer, learned that the hard way, despite bringing in a lot of the talented recruits currently rounding into talented upperclassmen on the roster today. Babers likely took some notes and is okay with compromising the “how” of 2017 and 2018’s wins, as long as the JUCO and grad transfers are part of why they happen. Eventually, his three- and four-year guys are the ones doing the heavy lifting, which is when the real payoff happens.
That “belief without evidence” may be out the window. But really, we sort of knew that after the Virginia Tech win last year, no? One game may not tell the whole story. But it — whether it’s the Tech win or the Pitt fireworks -- sure does sell you on what’s next.