How quickly it has all come apart, like a sweater chewed through by hungry moths. Syracuse’s season began with a preseason ranking and now threatens to be an oh-fer, a pitiful winless conference record. The offensive line was once again a disaster, Tommy DeVito couldn’t move the ball, and FSU took a 35-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Willie Taggart dealt with reports all week concerning his buyout. Four quarters against SU can do wonders for your job security.
What has happened? Where did all Dino Babers’ magic go? This was a team that could do no wrong last year, one that actually gave the would-be national champs a scare in their own house. Today, they wake up as perhaps the worst team in the worst power conference.
In the postgame Babers called Ryan Alexander, who left the team earlier in the week, a quitter, and one has to wonder if the lost season is taking a serious toll on him. He’s seems frustrated by the media, claiming that reports about injuries have been targets for opponents. More than anything Babers may be realizing just what a difficult job this truly is.
There was a honeymoon for Babers since SU fans had been used to losing and being boring. At least the new coach had an exciting offense, brought enthusiasm to every press conference, and had locker room speeches that went viral. It all felt positive even if the results weren’t quite there. Then last year’s ten-win Cinderella season happened and everything changed. Fans were worried he’d get snatched up by a bigger program, but when he decided to re-up it felt like an inevitability that the good times were here to stay. For a fanbase that remembered the 80’s and 90’s well, being a power team felt good again.
That excitement has melted and given way to vocal frustration. Earlier this week USA Today ranked SU at #12 in a 14-team conference, and that was before the misery against the Seminoles. Syracuse.com did them one better and slotted the Orange at #13. Syracuse twitter was lit on Saturday with angry fans griping about the coach, the offensive line, and the mistakes.
The good news is the ACC will always be a soft landing zone, a league where SU doesn’t have to do weekly battle against power programs. It’s a conference of basketball schools who’d like to have some decent football mixed in there too. But most ACC schools will never put resources into the gridiron like the SEC or the Big Ten. The bad news is this is a perfect moment in ACC history to take advantage and build a winner. Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State won’t all be this bad for long.
Syracuse has the worst weather in the conference, although that’s mitigated slightly by playing games in the Dome. But players like Moe Neal (who was profiled in a great piece this week here at The Fizz) have noted just how difficult the transition is. It is still definitely a basketball school, which can be used as a negative recruiting tactic. And as a private school, there’s not nearly the same deep coffers that some of the public schools in the league have. Clemson and Florida State blow the rest of the ACC out of the water in their spending toward football. Virginia Tech, Miami and Louisville also spend far more than SU. Syracuse pays Babers $2.27M a year, less than Navy, Houston, UCF, USF and Memphis spend in a Group of 5 conference. If the Orange pay their head coach approximately the same as Wyoming, should we expect much better?
Babers’ salary is actually the second-lowest in the ACC, and a staggering $7M less than Dabo Swinney. There is little talent in the state of New York to build a football winner, so SU has to win battles in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Which is also another reason this is a bad time to have a terrible season. Rutgers is down, way down, like “embarrassing every Saturday” down and these would be the years to land big names (like DeVito) from the Garden State. And SU football fans can be notoriously fickle, with empty seats in the Dome, and angry callers on the radio quickly turning attention to hoops season.
Can Babers win at SU regularly? Last year’s ten-win season was probably an aberration as everything went right for four glorious months. The more realistic template is annual 7-win potential and heading to solid bowl games, with every few years perhaps a magic carpet ride like last season. But this season should also be a one-off, there’s no reason for SU to be this bad. The ACC is not a dominant conference, and yet the Orange may not win a game in the league. Babers has the right to be frustrated, but this simply cannot be the real Orange or else it’s a dark reality.