With less than two weeks until the first snap of Syracuse’s 2023 season, it’s time to examine the stakes for this year. 2023 is going to be a referendum on Dino Babers’ ability as a head coach weekly, Babers’ hiring ability (with his two new coordinators), his recruiting ability (after a lot of talent was lost to the NFL and transfer portal), and lastly, and maybe most important, a referendum on Athletic Director John Wildhack’s trust in him to continue leading this program into the future.
It’s been written and talked about many times on The Fizz how much pressure is on Babers to succeed in 2023. In his seven years as head coach, he’s had two winning seasons and made just two bowl games, winning only the 2018 Camping World Bowl. He’s had plenty of big wins over his tenure, including upsets over Clemson and other big-name programs. But, he’s yet to find that consistency in Central New York, and that’s why his seat is lukewarm at best if the Orange don’t play well again this season.
“A year ago, the talk seemed to be bowl-or-bust for Babers and the Orange, but a 7-6 season and a Pinstripe Bowl berth didn’t quiet the critics,” David Hale of ESPN wrote. “Blame it on the raised expectations of a 6-0 start. A more balanced performance — and another bowl game — should do the trick in 2023, but if the Orange regress, the pressure will mount.”
The schedule is challenging, to say the least for Syracuse. There are winnable games, including three in the non-conference with Colgate, Western Michigan, and Army all visiting the JMA Wireless Dome. There are also winnable conference games, like a late October road contest against Virginia Tech, hosting Boston College and Wake Forest in November, while sandwiching a road trip to Georgia Tech in between. Despite that, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel isn’t optimistic.
“Week 9. Babers has managed to hang in for eight seasons despite producing just two winning records,” Mandel wrote, “but this could be the year when the wheels come off. After starting 6-0, the Orange lost five straight last season to finish 7-6, then lost OC Robert Anae to NC State and DC Tony White to Nebraska. Not great.”
Syracuse has been a very good home team under Babers, and the Orange will have chances to pull off some home upsets, like against Clemson at the end of September. But, the challenges of playing at Purdue, North Carolina, Florida State, and Pittsburgh at Yankee Stadium will be daunting. If Babers puts together another seven-win season, there’s no reason he won’t be the coach in 2024, but a flop could mean drastic changes to the program.
“If we have success in 2023 and beyond, I hope coach Babers is here for a long time,” Wildhack said a while back. “He wants to be here. We want him to be here.”
The pressure is on Babers to succeed, but there is a lot that could go wrong if the train starts to fall off the rails. Seven or more wins are out there for Syracuse, it’s just if Babers made the right offseason moves for his players and coaches to go out there and get them, and who steps up when it matters most.
“Success hinges on several factors,” Mark Frank of the AP wrote, “starting with how quickly the team can adapt without record-setting running back Sean Tucker and All-ACC defensive back Garrett Williams, who both left early for the NFL. Also leaving the program through the transfer portal were cornerback Duce Chestnut and safety Ja’Had Carter, poised to be among the program’s biggest stars, and defensive lineman Jatius Greer.”