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Syracuse football: where are we with Dino Babers heading into the 2023 season?

Breaking down the ever-complex next steps of Babers’ future with the program.

Purdue v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

For Syracuse Orange football fans, seven years of the coach Dino Babers experience has been an interesting roller coaster to say the least - ups, downs and turnarounds, you name it.

The peak of the Babers’ era: year three, a 10-3 campaign in 2018 which saw Syracuse rank 15th in the final AP poll and defeat #16 West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Usually, the third time is the charm. Immediately following that 2018 campaign, Babers signed a long-term contract extension to spearhead the Orange, a decision Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack enthusiastically supported when the deal was finalized.

“It’s a long-term extension, and we wanted to emphasize that for recruiting purposes, 2020 and beyond,” Wildhack said in 2018. This is about what is in the best interest of the program. I was focused on working really hard on getting this done. Now it is done.”

Since the extension was signed, Syracuse is 18-30. As mentioned, there’s been ups (last year’s 7-6 season which included the Orange’s first 6-0 start since 1987), downs (a 1-10 disaster in 2020) and everything in-between (5-7 records in 2019 and 2021).

Babers will kick off his eighth season as head coach of the Orange on Saturday - when Syracuse makes its 2023 debut versus Colgate - and enter this season with a career 36-49 record with the program. In a season marked by bowl game aspirations and capitalizing on last year’s success on the field, the important question to answer will be what happens after 2023:

Where will Babers and the program stand by the end of this season?

Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

By all accounts, the contract Babers signed in 2018 most likely runs through 2024 - meaning the program could be entering next season with a lame duck situation at coach. To make a (very) long story short, it’s a complicated mess behind the scenes, as TNIAAM’s Andrew Pregler detailed back in 2021.

Finances aside, the key factors for the Orange will be a) defining the program’s realistic expectations for the 2023 season and b) understanding how Syracuse’s performance determines what comes next for Babers.

The TNIAAM team’s final predictions for the 2023 season (as well as your comments) suggests that somewhere between 6-7 wins in the regular season is the minimum benchmark for a “successful” year for Babers and the Orange. Translation: two straight bowl games or bust, something never done before in the Babers era (Syracuse has made two consecutive bowl appearances just once this century - in 2012 and 2013 under Doug Marrone).

But, determining the Orange’s most realistic outcome gets more complicated when you look at the bigger picture. Harken back to last season, which peaked with a 6-0 start, the #14 in the AP poll and a near-upset road win over then-#5 Clemson.

From there, Syracuse lost six of its last seven games, including a disappointing end result versus Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl.

(Writer’s note: my “let’s not hit the panic button just yet” article following the Clemson loss continues to age poorer and poorer by the day.)

Yes, injuries and a lack of depth were to blame, but that wasn’t the whole story.

The 2022 season was, to an extent, a microcosm of Babers’ tenure so far: flashes of excellence, only to be cut short and end in slight disappointment.

Babers’ .424 winning percentage ranks fourth out of Syracuse’s last eight coaches dating back to the days of Ben Schwartzwalder, but second-best since 2005 behind Marrone’s 25-25 record.

Babers does deserve credit for taking what’s been a disastrous century for Orange football, churning out some memorable moments in terms of wins over ranked opponents and the 10-win season. The problem remains generating enough consistency from one year to the next.

That leads to the main choice Wildhack and SU Athletics will face after the 2023 season: what next?

Syracuse faces three straightforward paths beyond this season: 1) extend Babers for an unknown number of years, 2) terminate Babers if the 2023 campaign engulfs in flames or 3) take the lame duck approach.

Louisville v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Two bowl-clinching seasons in a row most likely results in another contract extension for Babers. That will at least resemble a sign of progress and consistency for the program moving forward, especially once you factor in Syracuse’s top-50 standing for the class of 2024 recruitment cycle. The program can talk itself into back-to-back successful campaigns and a promising young crop of recruits entering into the mix as the university continues to invest in its facilities.

But, what happens if the Orange ends up with a 5-7 record or worse? As Kevin noted in his theoretical 5-7 outcome for 2023, firing Babers could derail Syracuse’s potential future in 2024 with the incoming recruitment class and decimate any trend towards continuity. If terminated or asked to resign, who’s the replacement? Wouldn’t that directly contradict the idea of building some consistency within the program?

At the same time, many Syracuse fans are understandably frustrated with the “two steps forward, one to two steps back” experience since that aforementioned 2018 season. A changing of the guard would reset the Orange’s short term plans and kill whatever momentum is present, but sticking with Babers might only take you so far considering he’s finished with just two above-.500 seasons in seven tries.

Nearly five years ago, Wildhack said the long term Babers extension was in the best interest of the program.

Fast forward to this season, and the clock continues to strike closer to midnight on what comes next for Babers and Syracuse football.