As we enter year three of the Dino Babers era for Syracuse Orange football, we’re sitting in a familiar spot for the program.
Progress is apparent, but we’re waiting on the wins to go with it. Injuries have been a subplot, and also a major source of frustration. While we weren’t always sure of the plan with previous coaches — even Doug Marrone surrounded his own steady hand with the uncertainty around the offensive scheme — Babers is a known entity in that regard. Win or lose, succeed or fail, we know this team’s designed to go fast. Syracuse has done that for the last two years. Now we’re just waiting on that speed to turn into points.
Most of us here have full faith that it’ll happen. The Orange’s recruiting classes have improved since Babers’s arrival, and the team has looked better each year... when healthy. Personally, I wouldn’t wish a fourth straight 4-8 season on my worst enemy. But if that happened for SU this year, Babers’s job would not be in any danger. He’s building something, and you can clearly see it coming together. It’s just taking longer than he’d like.
We bring all of this up because of a pesky bit of history for Syracuse that doesn’t necessarily work in Babers’s favor: No Orange football coach has ever made a bowl game in year three.
Past performance is not indicative of future returns, of course -- especially in the case of football programs that turn over players every four years. However, this does feel at least a little foreboding. Syracuse has plenty of veteran talent on this year’s roster, but overall returning production numbers aren’t incredibly high. The schedule, as always in the ACC, is full of some serious land mines as well.
Three years ago, we performed a similar exercise when Scott Shafer was embarking on year three, albeit under different circumstances (both good and bad). And came to the conclusion that it’s tough to compare across eras. But more importantly, that every coach to that point had either made it to year four or (in the case of Lew Andreas) left of their own accord. And that every coach to that point had won no more than six games in year three as well.
Shafer bucked some trends of his own there — not only becoming the first third-year Syracuse coach in 100 years to fail to get to year four. But also the first to be fired before the end of year three. Babers isn’t in danger of either of those things happening, so his “firsts” should hopefully be a bit more positive, like making a bowl game?
In any case, a quick look back on the third-year marks Babers will be looking to surpass this fall:
Scott Shafer (2015): 4-8, no postseason
“3-0! 24 years!” turned into losing the next eight games, which led to Shafer getting canned following a sideline fit against NC State. Beloved by the players, he’d get carried off the field after Syracuse beat Boston College 20-17 to close the campaign. This season did bring us the beginning of the Eric Dungey era, however.
Doug Marrone (2011): 5-7, no postseason
A frustrating year that was highlighted by a 5-2 start and one of my favorite recent Syracuse games -- the blowout Friday night win over West Virginia. The Orange lost the next five and finished 5-7, but Marrone was dealing with some leeway coming from the GERG era. This just disrupted the upward momentum the program would realize by halfway through the following season.
Greg GERG Robinson (2007): 2-10, no postseason
Despite a 5-18 start to his Syracuse tenure, GERG was not fired following a 2-10 third season — mostly to avoid a larger buyout payment (those were the Big East days, after all). This team was a disaster in every way, though they somehow also upset Louisville on the road. I hated everything about the season, and so did you.
Paul Pasqualoni (1993): 6-4-1, no postseason
Coach P hit a small bump in the road in both 1993 and 1994 — the only two in which he’d fall short of the postseason in the 1990s. This slightly rough patch eventually led us to Donovan McNabb. But Syracuse fans were a bit antsy when this season first occurred, following two straight 10-win campaigns in the years before.
Dick MacPherson (1983): 6-5, no postseason
The start of the turnaround that didn’t really take off until the 1987 campaign. Syracuse was stomped by Nebraska, but also went 3-0 to end the year, upsetting ranked BC and West Virginia teams. MacPherson’s recipe for improvement was already in the works, and fans could (mostly) see it from the product on the field. If he falls short of a bowl, this dynamic is really what Babers should be hoping for.
Frank Maloney (1976): 3-8, no postseason
In a decrepit, late Archbold Stadium, SU sputtered along in 1976, losing big to peer programs as an Eastern Independent. Luckily, despite the poor showing, it didn’t stop the school from pursuing plans to build the Carrier Dome and keep Orangemen football in the I-A ranks (they’d briefly considered moving down or cancelling football altogether at the time).
Ben Schwartzwalder (1951): 5-4, no postseason
Ben’s teams got marginally better in each of his first three seasons, which was fine for a program that had not yet been to the (much smaller) postseason. The improvements set the stage for what would come next: The first golden age of Syracuse football (1952 to about 1967). If Babers would like to imitate THIS trajectory instead of MacPherson’s, even better.
1920-1950 Head Coaches
Ossie Solem (1939): 3-3-2, no postseason
Vic Hanson (1932): 4-4-1, no postseason
Lew Andreas (1929): 6-3, no postseason
Chick Meehan (1922): 6-1-2, no postseason