On Saturday, the Syracuse Orange (6-2, 3-2) beat a top-25 team for the third straight season, and accomplished quite a bit in the process.
Along with senior QB Eric Dungey surpassing Donovan McNabb for the most offensive yards in program history, SU also earned win No. 6 for bowl eligibility (first time since 2013) and entered the top 25 for the first time since 2001.
After the big win — among the biggest the Orange have experienced under Dino Babers — the coach spoke to media on the ACC coaches teleconference on Wednesday:
Bowl eligibility means more than just a landmark for him
For a guy who has only been a head coach in one bowl game (and it was the Camellia Bowl), this has to be special for Babers. In his third year with the Orange, he’s given this program a top-25 ranking, two wins over major programs, and his second bowl appearance.
When he took over in 2015, this team was in shambles. Scott Shafer’s departure was a mess, and the remaining talent on the roster didn’t appear to be anything special. Yet, in less than three seasons, here we are at No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Babers, still, is not looking at this as a personal accomplishment, or at least he’s not saying as much.
“I don’t even look at it for myself, I look at it for the football family,” he said. “I think you’re going to get some young men that have been here four and five years have never gone to a bowl game, they’ve never had a winning season, for them to get that monkey off their back and have an opportunity to not only leave major college football as a winner for one of their seasons, and then to have the opportunity to experience the things that go on in bowl games, I think that those two things will be something that they’ll be able to cherish the rest of their lives, and that’s the thing that makes me the most excited about getting to that sixth win.”
For seniors like Dungey and Antwan Cordy, this has to be unreal. In his final season, in Dungey’s case, he’s able to lead the Orange into its first bowl game in five years. It’s important that Babers understands that, but you have to think the head coach is happy for himself too.
Eric Dungey and the seniors bought in from the start and now it’s paying off
When a new coach arrives on the scene, it’s easy for the guys who he didn’t recruit to feel left out or not appreciated by the new staff. They feel like they’re not wanted and they end up transferring or sinking down the depth chart. Yet, when Babers arrived on campus, he had no trouble fitting them into his system and coaching style.
Even in the first year, Syracuse was far more watchable than any of the Shafer years. The offense was up-tempo and occasionally explosive, but the defense took some time to come along. Now, it appears the team has come full circle and he says that’s due to the leadership and maturity of the seniors.
“I think it’s all our seniors,” Babers said. “When you’re recruited by one head coach and then he leaves and you have to play for another, I think it’s important that you get the senior leadership and the older guys on the football team, as many as you can, to buy in, because they will help you to establish the culture. And I think his class along with other people in his class have helped us to do that.”
Special teams may be the best unit
Anyone who has watched Syracuse this year knows the Orange special teams are dominant. They save punts from landing in the end-zone, pinning teams inside their own 10-yard line, set up explosive returns for junior Sean Riley, and stop teams from advancing beyond the 20 yard line on kick offs. Excluding the one punt return against UNC where the Tar Heels found enough blocks for Dazz Newsome to race his way into the end-zone, SU’s special teams have been spectacular.
“I really feel like our special teams have overshot the mark,” Babers said. “They’ve raised the bar on what my expectations were, and now I’m not going to lower them again. I think that Coach (Sean) Lustig, our special teams coordinator, does a fantastic job, and I’m really happy with the results so far this season.”