Orange Watch: No bowl game, but a season of growth for Syracuse football

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Syracuse seeks just its second November win over the last four seasons on Saturday vs. Boston College

Item: With so many bowl games currently in place, we always get envious in years that Syracuse doesn’t qualify for a postseason invite and programs, especially from non-Power 5 conferences, are enjoying the extra practices and trips to some far off destination to play a 13th or even 14th game of the season. While it’s always hard to win with backups at key positions, as the Orange has endured with its difference maker, quarterback Eric Dungey who has yet to finish an entire season in his three year career on The Hill, there’s no doubt that Dino Babers has the ship sailing in the right direction.

With nothing on the line other than besting last year’s four win total when Syracuse finishes out Babers second season Saturday afternoon hosting bowl-bound Boston College (12:20 ET / ACC Network) on Senior Day, the game’s outcome nonetheless will tell us plenty about where the program is headed.

After all, in a season highlighted by an “all-time” victory on a Friday night with the sport’s national base watching in awe as then-No. 2 Clemson, the defending national champions went down in the Dome, and conversely the bleak outcome of falling to former coach Scott Shafer and Group of 5 member Middle Tennessee State, and a current winless November, there’s only one way to have some sort of momentum heading into the new early recruiting signing period (Dec. 20-22), winter workouts, and the traditional Letter of Intent day on the first Wednesday of February (Feb. 7, 2018), and that’s by beating the team that’s been conference-designated as the program’s biggest rival.

» Related: With no fight left, Syracuse makes its nightmare complete against Louisville

While there’s been plenty of lamenting amongst those in Orange Nation concerning the “what-ifs” had Dungey remained healthy and played in the final three games as the team’s dual-threat rushing (595 net yards-nine touchdowns) and passing (2495 yards-14 touchdowns) leader, Babers won’t buy any excuses, such as injuries, in year two of the program’s rebuild.

“Eric not playing on offense doesn’t affect how the defense plays,” the SU coach said earlier in the week. “(The) defense still has an opportunity to go out there and shut people out. And the offense has an opportunity to go out there and score every time they have the football. I think that’s the way the two sides have to look at things. I don’t think one guy or one side can affect everything on the other side of the ball.”

While the Clemson victory in October showcased the winning side of “a game that’s faster than you’ve ever seen on turf,” as did the Wake Forest loss a month later, Babers has become a quick learner of the nuances of competing in a conference that has produced two of the last four national champions.

“When I first came in (to the program) I saw the league one way, and I felt we could come in and do certain things because I wasn’t sure people (other coaches) would be willing to change,” Babers explained.

“What I’ve seen in the second year in this league is that guys (coaches) are adapting, they’re changing, and they’re moving with (the) times, which makes this league even more dangerous (coaches willing to grow, mature, and adapt). I think that’s one of the top reasons why this league is one of the top leagues in college football, and it’s going to continue to be one of the top leagues in college football.”

So here’s the challenge: Recruiting an 85 player scholarship roster of talent that can first compete to start sniffing around the Top 25 polls and be in contention for division and conference bragging rights, and at a minimum return the program to its annual position of playing in bowl games from minor to major.

“You just don’t step on the field and win. There’s a process we have to go through and we’re going through that process, and we will win,” Babers optimistically forecasted this week. “And it will be exciting when we do and we’ll all join in (that winning) in the community and it will be fantastic. But we need to go through the process and it’s slow, it’s take time, but we’ll get it done.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.

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