“Despite the long list of problems, we still weren’t far off from a bowl game this year... Dammit.”
Now, Syracuse opponents supplied numerous blowouts at our expense, and I’m not trying to say that this team was a near-miss or two away from Orange Bowl contention (as was the initial expectation when this season started). However, my mind continues to race about what almost was for this Orange squad.
Down 16-10 against NC State, SU was moving methodically downfield as time was winding down. The touchdown was no guarantee, but some missed calls derailed the drive and what should’ve been a win against what ended up being a very bad Wolfpack squad.
Against Pitt just a week later, it seemed that the Orange had recovered a fumble to take possession of the ball again down seven. But right or wrong, the play was reversed and SU wouldn’t get it back. They’d lose 27-20.
I won’t even include Louisville, which wasn’t a near-miss in final score, but more due to missed opportunities late while mounting a furious comeback.
Additionally, you could look at the switch on the offensive line between Airon Servais and Carlos Vettorello as another near-miss. That move helped power Syracuse to two wins in the final three games. Perhaps it could’ve helped add another W earlier in the year.
Dino Babers loves some analogies, and the image of baking a cake was among his favorites in the first couple years at SU. In 2016 and 2017, we wanted to taste the finished product, but it wasn’t done. Last year, we assumed the cake was fully baked. It wasn’t, and we’ve been disappointed as a result. But a cake is also never perfect.
One ingredient slightly out of wack, and even with sound fundamentals elsewhere, the whole thing goes horribly wrong. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. And even when you put all of the ingredients together as intended, there’s always something to be improved upon. No cake is ever perfect, after all.
So that’s where Dino stands as he enters his fourth full offseason, and fifth overall at Syracuse. He’s shown us that the cake can be baked really well, even if not perfect. He’s also shown us that the recipe can’t be replicated as consistently as he’d like, and there’s room for improvement. Babers acknowledged as much in his post-game comments where, in a surprising moment of significant candor, he said there will be staff changes coming.
In light of what’s occurred this season, year five will tell us a lot about how good of a chef Babers is now that he’s received some less-than-stellar reviews for the first time. For what it’s worth, he doesn’t appear to be bristling at the criticism, as much as he’s responded swiftly. Since the heat really picked up on 2019’s seeming collapse, he’s fired his long-time defensive coordinator, been part of a key position switch, pushed better play-calling and been at the helm for two wins in three games.
That’s not to say that he saved the season; we still didn’t make a bowl. But he did engineer a nice little comeback in the back quarter of the season that at least resembles the sort of excitement he’d initially brought to campus, and the program lived out last year. Perhaps all he and this group needed was a little bit of a fire lit under them.
The temptation to taste and critique the cake next year will come weekly, and just as it’s Babers’s responsibility to take feedback and adjust, it’s ours to try and avoid overreacting to one good or bad bite. This is Syracuse, after all. Not a blueblood football program. The “perfect” cake doesn’t exist. More accurately, we just need it to be pretty edible most of the time, with occasional bouts of excellent.
For what it’s worth, the late-season fight showed me Babers is up to the task, as are his players. Now let’s see what happens with a new recipe next year.