I’m not sure why I did this to myself, but I did.
Knowing how aggravating penalties have been for the Syracuse Orange football team this season and recalling similar aggravations most seasons, I did some digging a few years back. And then a few years more. And then wound up at 2010, which will be a clean 10-year stretch once this season wraps up.
The conclusion: Syracuse is one of the 10 most penalized teams in the country since the start of the 2010 season, on a penalties per game basis (7.16). They wind up at No. 9, just behind Louisville (7.19) and just ahead of USF (7.09). For those curious, the entire top 10:
- Baylor Bears (8.27)
- Texas Tech Red Raiders (7.63)
- UCLA Bruins (7.58)
- Oregon Ducks (7.46)
- USC Trojans (7.42)
- Arkansas State Red Wolves (7.37)
- Florida Gators (7.21)
- Louisville Cardinals (7.19)
- Syracuse Orange (7.16)
- USF Bulls (7.09)
Interestingly, three of the top 10 are private schools, and three are from the Pac-12 (USC being the overlap of those two groups). Not that it means much, but eight of the top 10 are P5 schools. Perhaps more indicative of something, seven of the top 10 have run offenses with some sort of tempo aspect during the last decade. Dino Babers has also been on two of the staffs (Baylor and SU).
The list changes up a little bit when sorting by penalty yards per game. Baylor’s still on top, but the Orange dip all the way to 19th. While we don’t have an individual breakdown of every infraction, that would seem to indicate that a lot of the penalties are unforced errors like false starts and delay-of-game fouls (which are only five yards). Anyone who’s watched a couple Syracuse games this year is likely nodding in agreement. It ends up that the trend extends out beyond this season, though.
So what’s the fix? Tempo does seem like a factor based on the teams at the top of the list, and perhaps there’s some sort of relief in seeing Syracuse drop down when looking at the yardage too. Of course SU commits personal fouls, but perhaps to a lesser degree than the false starts based on how things change when sorting by yardage.
There’s also the fact that when looking at the least penalized teams, it’s a list of all of the names you’d expect for one reason or another. Army, Navy and Air Force are the three least penalized teams on a per-game basis, something that likely has to do both with discipline and tempo. Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa all make sense for tempo. Duke, Wake and Penn State are down there too, though, and they’ve used tempo to some extent in recent years.
The solution probably becomes “just do better,” which sounds like a cop-out, but it’s as simple as just being more disciplined. Right now, SU’s offense has enough issues to worry about without helping opponents with 74.6 yards per game (as they are in 2019). If you’re in the mood to aggravate yourself about the last decade — or just peek on the full list — you can check it out here.