It’s early in Dino Babers’ coaching tenure at Syracuse, and there’s been positives and negatives in SU’s first two games of 2016.
There have been times the Orange offense has looked sharp, racking up 554 and 414 yards of total offense against Colgate and Louisville, respectively. Of course, SU was also demolished, 62-28, by the Cardinals on Friday night.
Babers has been in similar situations at two different stops with Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. In two early season performances against superior opponents in 2012 and 2014 (Babers’ first years at each school), FCS Eastern Illinois played FBS Western Michigan on the road. In 2014, Bowling Green matched up against then-No. 19 Wisconsin in Madison.
Both games went the way of SU’s game against Louisville.
Thanks to a record-setting day by the Badgers’ Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin throttled the Falcons, 68-17, which isn’t that far off from Syracuse’s score against Louisville. The Badgers set all kinds of offensive records on that day, including running for a Big Ten-record 644 yards. Gordon himself accounted for 253 yards and five touchdowns.
Sure sounds like the equivalent of Louisville QB Lamar Jackson’s stat line.
In his second game at Eastern Illinois four years ago, Babers and the Panthers traveled to Kalamazoo where they were similarly routed by the Broncos, 52-21. In that game, Western Michigan lit up Eastern Illinois for 631 total yards.
In case you’ve forgotten, Louisville went for 845 yards.
I’m sure you can tell by now, there is a familiar theme developing. Superior talent played on a superior level to those Babers teams, putting up gaudy offensive numbers on the way to lopsided victories.
But if the past is any indicator, there is still plenty of room for optimism.
In 2012, Eastern Illinois lost two of its first three games before winning six of seven to close the season. The Panthers finished the season 7–5, (6–1 Ohio Valley Conference) and finished as the East’s division champion. Similarly, Bowling Green went on to finish 8-6 overall (5-3 MAC) and won the East Division.
While no one is expecting Syracuse to win the Atlantic Division with Clemson, Louisville and FSU on board, history dictates that an early September setback is no reason to completely abandon the season. Babers ball was enough to keep both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green in games against like competition.
The reality is, Syracuse won’t win against Notre Dame, Clemson or Florida State. The telling factor of how Babers’ system will play out the rest of the season will come in the next two weeks against an improved USF team (a game that SU is an underdog in) and on the road against UCONN, which is more likely to be considered a coin flip game.
That should be a good barometer of whether Syracuse’s 2016 season will play out like the 2012 Eastern Illinois or the 2014 Bowling Green teams.