This is it, there can be no lower feeling inside the Syracuse football walls. SU fans remember the demolitions at the hands of Miami and Virginia Tech toward the end of the Coach P era. They remember the running-in-place of the Scott Shafer years. They remember the darkness of the early Doug Marrone tenure.
None of those low points match this one. Liberty just trolled SU on Twitter. The closest event Orange fans have to getting punished at the Dome by Liberty is September 6, 2008. On that fateful day the misguided hope of Greg Robinson was smashed into smithereens. Twelve years ago was the inglorious 42-28 loss to Akron at the Dome, a fatal blow to Groobers and his disastrous reign. It set in motion a season that would be Robinson’s last. SU finished 3-9, and there was no coming back from a defeat to the Zips. It was Akron’s second win ever over a Power 5 opponent. It declared in neon lights how unprepared Robinson was for the job. It also alerted SU fans just how far the program had fallen.
This feels the same way. How could SU be so thin on defense that it allows a program that just recently elevated from FCS to run for more than 300 yards at the Dome? How could an ACC team not only get beaten at home by Liberty, but be so obviously the inferior team? To be fair, the Flames are led by a former SEC head coach, and recruit far better than their reputation suggests. But the writing was on the wall early as Vegas installed Liberty as favorites, and Yahoo Sports writer Pete Thamel predicted before the game an SU loss in a blowout.
Some of this was bad luck for the Orange. Tommy DeVito, for all his worts, would’ve been better than Rex Culpepper. Andre Cisco got injured in pregame warmups. Multiple important SU players opted out because of COVID. The Dome had no fans in attendance. If any one of those things slide SU’s way, even some of them, it may have been a different story. None of those issues are Dino Babers’ fault.
The problem is more that the program has shown itself over five years, and the reality is ugly. Under Babers Syracuse still doesn’t have its traction from a recruiting standpoint. The roster is still threadbare of top-level talent. All of Babers’ infectious optimism and energy has only equated to one winning season. And the 10-3 campaign now feels more the anomaly than the true potential of the program. Without a doubt this will be no better than a 4-win season, meaning Babers will have 4/5 victories every season but one. One had to wonder if the move to the ACC simply leaves SU in permanent purgatory like other whipping boys of the Power 5: Vandy, Wake Forest, Oregon State, Indiana, Rutgers.
As Thamel laid out Saturday night, Babers won’t be fired. He’s owed close to $17M as a buyout after this season. There’s no way SU ponies up that to get rid of a coach, only to also pay the next one. So this is a moment in time, it’s not the beginning of the end (for at least another year) for Babers. Perhaps it’s the darkness before the light. The Akron loss birthed the move to Marrone, and immediately the program began climbing back. Maybe this humiliation will force Babers to readdress recruiting. Maybe the school will invest more in talent scouting and support staff. Maybe there will be a harsh glare John Wildhack and Babers use to find new solutions. Because losing to Liberty is one of the low points in SU football history. Now we see what SU does with it.