2016 RECAP AND 2017 OUTLOOK:
Dino Babers’ first season at Syracuse, while showing significant improvement in some areas, was far from perfect. The team had struggles early on both sides of the ball as new schemes were implemented with a roster featuring players who were not true fits. In spite of that, the team pulled off its biggest win in almost five years, dropping #17 Virginia Tech at the Carrier Dome, and took care of Boston College on the road the following week to reach 4-4. The upset of the Hokies was followed by an online video of Babers’ postgame speech, which became a viral sensation, giving some added publicity to the program.
However, quarterback Eric Dungey was injured in the following game at Clemson, hindering SU’s chase of a bowl berth, and the team ended the season on a four-game skid to finish at 4-8, including a 2-6 ACC mark.
On the offensive side of the ball, where most improvements were expected due to the uptempo spread offense Babers was installing, there was a marked increase in total offense, as the team rolled up over 120 more yards per game compared to the previous season. That change came from an invigorated passing attack, which more than doubled the number of passing yards gained over the prior season. Babers’ offense set or tied 44 different SU records in its first season.
Not everything was improved on the offensive side of the ball, though. An inexperienced and injury-riddled offensive line (nine different players started games) endured struggles, permitting nearly twice as many sacks as the previous season and seeing the yards per carry drop by over a full yard.
The defensive side of the ball also underwent a schematic overhaul, perhaps best described as the team ripping the bandage off, only to reveal an open wound. The defense struggled, giving up the most points in school history both in a game and in a season. The season finale at Pittsburgh was the capper, leaving a bad taste in the defense’s mouth, as they permitted 76 points in the game. In that game, the offense rolled up 61 points, the most any Orange team had posted in 15 years, yet each and every point was for naught.
Like their counterparts on the offensive line, the defensive unit was banged up, as well. Seven different linemen and eight different backs started games for the SU defense and lots of young players got thrown into action. Six of those linemen and four defensive backs entered last season with one season of collegiate experience or less.
The second season under Babers promises more to come on offense, as the head coach has often stated that his scheme truly kicks in for his players around the midpoint of its second season as it becomes second nature to them. While that sounds tantalizing, the defense also needs to take a leap forward, and no one understands that more than Babers himself. The head coach brought in multiple junior college and graduate transfers to accelerate defensive improvement.
While that improvement is definitely needed, it may not be easily measured, as the Orange face a schedule touted as among the toughest in the country. That slate features five games against teams ranked in the preseason top 20, with four of those games on the road, and a couple other opponents also received votes in the inaugural polls.