Item: At first glance, there hasn’t been so much to look forward to with Syracuse football for the upcoming season under hurry-up offensive impresario and first year coach Dino Barbers since, believe it or not, Greg Robinson was named coach in Jan. 2005, only because of the unknown and newness to bringing west coast outsiders Daryl Gross as AD and Robinson on to campus to try and upright the football program after 14 seasons under Paul Pasqualoni. Well, we all know how badly that turned out. Even after the tenures of the more known commodities in Coach Mac player Doug Marrone (1983-85), followed by his defensive coordinator Scott Shafer in the last two head coaching cycles both ending on a sour note for different reasons, the football program has lacked the leadership consistency and success that new AD John Wildhack and Babers, who had a loud voice in his own boss’s hiring, hope to finally tackle season-by-season in building a top-to-bottom plan to compete in the ACC by the time the new schedule format (SU reportedly wants nine ACC games each year) kicks in for the 2019 season. The anticipation of Act I of “a game that’s faster than (we’ve) ever seen on turf” is building to the Sept. 2 Dome opener, as we look at the season in the schedule’s chronological order.
The curtain rises on the Babers era against an opponent Syracuse has played 66 times previously, and actually trails in the all-time series (30-31-5). If there wasn’t already enough motivation to get off on the right foot beating Colgate to begin the season, then there’s the simple matter of making the new coach proud in the first live look at the new accelerated philosophies and formations on both sides of the ball, and show pride in taking down a FCS member and upstate neighbor ‘gate, a 42-7 Dome victim in 2010, but a completely different team this time around. The Raiders won two NCAA playoff games last year, are eyeing another trip to the postseason this season, and figure to make this a much more competitive game against a SU team feeling its way through speeding up the pace on offense, and on defense getting pressure on the quarterback to allow the linebackers and secondary to adjust to the active Tampa 2 scheme. The game will stay within two scores into the fourth quarter on another typical sauna-like, late summer evening under the Teflon top (How soon until the renovated building is finished?), before one final touchdown provides the Orange with a hard fought 35-18 victory. (1-0, 0-0)
Ah, the perils of social media. There are plenty of hackers on Twitter, and when someone apparently posted links to adult material on the official site of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino earlier this month, it set off a wave of stories rehashing how Petrino ended up back in the ‘Ville; you know, the infamous motorcycle accident with a female staff member aboard his bike at Arkansas in 2012, a one year “sabbatical,” followed by a soft entry back into coaching at Western Kentucky for a season, before fortuitous timing in 2014 opened the door for him to reunite with AD Tom Jurich and the Cardinals. Petrino was quick to issue a statement condemning the Twitter account hack, and he’s moved on to preparing for what could be a monumental season for U of L in chasing Clemson and Florida State like everyone else. The Cards return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and the players look sharp as they will exceed the 41 points scored against the ‘Cuse last season in a 42-28 statement that sours the 44,000 on hand for a Friday night, nationally televised Orange Out, but brings more promise (or is it “faith?”) of how fun the offense can become once the players have more game experience. (1-1, 0-1)
Make no mistake; South Florida coach Willie Taggart has seen what AAC conference-mate Houston has done with its program, from constructing a modern, on-campus stadium, to taking advantage of sitting in the middle of fertile recruiting territory to stockpile its roster with speed and talent not too far off from many middle level Power 5 programs, and he’d like to continue to follow that game plan. The long term wish list has the school eyeing the building of an on-campus facility with a much smaller capacity than 65,890 seat Raymond James Stadium home of the NFL Buccaneers. The fleet USF roster was made painfully obvious in last year’s 45-24 Bulls blitz under the hot Tampa sun, in which the Orange players were gassed at the end. That won’t be a problem this time around with a completely different conditioning regimen instituted under Babers since he arrived last winter, but a gutsy Syracuse effort falls short on its final fourth quarter drive when SU fails on a fourth down attempt with just over 2:00 to play and loses 33-28. (1-2, 0-1)
The last time Syracuse played at Connecticut a short five seasons ago, the head coaches in the Big East game were Marrone and Pasqualoni, and the Orange were embarrassed 28-21 by the Huskies and their former boss Coach P. How times have changed. When the teams meet at East Hartford in game four, Babers will have had a lot of game video to work with in teaching his team as it plays its first road game, while UConn’s Bob Diaco will be seeking to continue the rebuilding job he’s started in just two seasons since leaving Notre Dame, getting to a bowl game last year and knocking off league champion Houston in the process. Interestingly, Connecticut will have played at Navy and hosted Virginia the two previous weeks prior to this late Sept. meeting, and by the fourth quarter it will show. That’s when the SU offense finishes clicking with two touchdowns on route to winning 35-21. (2-2, 0-1)
There’s no telling what the eventual fallout will be following the arrests of six Notre Dame football players in two separate August incidents just over two weeks prior to the Irish season opener Sept. 4 at Texas, but at least four of the players were being counted on to make significant contributions this season, and with one player already dismissed from the program it’s certainly a distraction. As usual, the ND schedule is ridiculous. Besides Texas, there’s Michigan State, Stanford, USC, and pesky Army, Navy, and Nevada out of conference, plus a mix of foes in their ACC games against Miami, Virginia Tech, Duke, N.C. State and the Orange. In the final game of a lucrative-to-the-athletic department four game series of “New York’s College Classic” dating back to 2012 with the folks at MetLife Stadium, Syracuse enjoys the spotlight racing out to a 17-3 lead before the Irish come back and use a fluke fumble in the final 3:00 to gain great field position on route to a short touchdown pass to win 31-24. (2-3, 0-1)
There are actually two teams that received fewer total points in the ACC preseason media poll than SU; Virginia and Wake Forest. The Orange knocked off the Demon Deacons in the Dome last season as Eric Dungey made a big impression in running the offense, and lost on the road to UVA in 3OT and aren’t scheduled to play the Cavaliers again until the next decade. While Wake remains a game Syracuse counts on to win each season, the Demon Deacons will be deceptively better than last year with nine returning offensive players from a team that got better as the season went on, although not indicative in their final 3-9 record, and they’ll be in the mix with the Orange, B.C. and N.C. State fighting for respectability in the Atlantic Division. Not sharp at times, Syracuse trails throughout at Winston Salem and down 27-13 entering the fourth quarter, a field goal on the first play of the quarter cuts the lead to 11, and two quick, seven play scoring drives, the second coming after the ‘Cuse defense stops the Deacons on a their own 35 yard line with 3:40 in regulation, lifts the Orange to its second true road win 30-27, the most since 2014 with wins at Central Michigan and also Wake Forest. (3-3, 1-1)
Part II, the rest of the season, will run Friday.