Syracuse football’s soar into relevance this season has officially produced a new curiosity. This week, head coach Dino Babers strayed away from the grim underdog clichés spoken through long, purposeful blinks that usually mark his press conferences. Instead, he projected new confidence that suggests he knows the Orange aren’t really fighting for respect these days. Instead, it’s merely a matter of course that they already have it.
“I thought [it was] deserved [to be ranked No. 18]…now we have to go out and prove that we deserve the faith that everybody’s putting in us.” (Dino Babers on Rankings, 10/10/22)
That faith has altered the climate around No. 18 Syracuse and sunk into its foundation like a mist. There’s a restless enthusiasm surrounding this weekend’s ranked test against No. 15 NC State. The first matchup between two ranked teams inside the Dome since 2001 tends to do that. 40,000 strong have already bought tickets for that matchup on what looks to be a clear, crisp October afternoon.
If this is as good as it gets for the 2022 Orange, soak it in while the sun is out.
SU has a golden opportunity to steal a win away from a questionably-impressive NC State team that’ll be armed either with an aching Devin Leary or without him. The Wolfpack look about as vulnerable as a No. 15 ranked team ever has. A sixth win and the second bowl berth of Dino Babers’ tenure as SU coach is about as ripe for the picking as a Beak & Skiff apple – but uneasy is the head that may or may not end up bearing the vaunted crown of “Duke’s Mayo Bowl Participant”.
To erase the memories of 2018’s implosion against Notre Dame, 2019’s letdown against Maryland, and all the choke artistry that has characterized SU football over the past generation and change, Babers and company have to show something important: whether or not they’ve learned how to win when the lights are on full blast. For his part, Babers is confident his team’s cohesion makes a difference.
“I have told them [SU] you’re playing a football team [NC State], this is not a bunch of individuals…they’re also playing a football team, not a bunch of individuals.” (Babers, 10/10/22)
The syntax needs a little work (or a long clause to fall Tetris-style into the middle of it to make it make sense), but chemistry is indeed what helps this year’s Syracuse squad rise above the jokers who inhabit the program’s past. James Madison might be awfully good and get the nod over SU in rankings, but it didn’t have to fight off the decade-plus old specter of the Little Engine That Could and starters getting into fistfights over snowballs. Color me impressed, because given its recent past, Syracuse’s five wins should be worth about 15. There’s a lot this team isn’t having to deal with, so credit a positive culture change for that fact.
Helping a team learn how to win isn’t easy. After his hiring in 2016, Babers himself took two years to get the Orange out of the lurch, and his ‘22 squad has beaten down active learners this year; UConn has been comatose on its desk for half a decade, and Virginia suddenly has to re-teach itself the coursework under the inept Tony Elliott. Life comes at you fast in the win-loss column, but SU can now prove once and for all that it has fully graduated from the basement.
With a ferocious-looking Clemson team ready to pounce next week, Syracuse could go a long way guaranteeing success this year by doing some clinching this weekend. Better to lock it in on a star-aligned night at home than schlep out to a second half full of road trips against conference agitators. Now more than ever, time is of the essence for SU to grab its place in the postseason and break through the doubts. If the Orange can’t get ready for primetime in the Dome, the weight of hope gets that much heavier as the weeks go by. It should go without saying: no pressure, guys.