Why is getting to a bowl so important for Syracuse? With only three bowl appearances in the last dozen years and none in the last three (only two players on the roster have been part of an SU team to reach a bowl and both – Sean Avant and Jamar McGloster – were redshirting as true freshmen), reaching a postseason game would give the Orange several positives – exposure for the program, up to 15 practices to give younger players more work, and some momentum going into offseason recruiting. And that last one may be the most important of all.
SU has lagged on the recruiting trail for many years, but Babers and his staff have made strides in signing players, namely freshman quarterback Tommy DeVito. Having a top quarterback in the fold is a sign to other players that interesting things are happening at Syracuse and the most important position seems to be in good hands. Babers and his staff have since added verbal commits from a pair of four-star offensive linemen in the 2018 class, putting the Orange in line for their first top 50 recruiting class in a long, long time.
Getting to a bowl should only help them add momentum to their recruiting efforts, which should help them add better players, then perform better on the field next season, and on and on it goes.
The evidence of the importance of getting back to a bowl is what Babers has done off the field. He brought along a strength and conditioning coach to develop players so that they can succeed in the uptempo style of play. The decision to bring in seven graduate students and junior college transfers on defense should go a long way toward shoring up the inadequacies shown on that side of the ball last year. In addition to adding a headline recruit like DeVito, recruiting efforts have paid off with a higher caliber of players across the board to play in this unique offense.
As those young players mature, the ones Babers selected to add to the program will start making contributions on the playing field. Babers’ offensive system taking off. The defense getting opportunities against opponents feeling pressure to keep up with that offense and dig out of deficits.
But, that’s the future. What about the now? Can they get to that bowl game?
The lines will likely hold the answer to that question. The offensive line is again inexperienced, but they are responsible for making the whole offense go. Quarterback Eric Dungey is comfortable with the system and ready to make things go. The skill positions feature some talent experienced in the system, backed up by players who could be contributors, as well as a potential impact player in Ravian Pierce, a junior college tight end who is a matchup problem on paper.
The defensive line is still young and lacking a lot of experience, particularly at the ends. While the starting tackles should be more than adequate, the need to roll in bodies to keep fresh players in the trenches will expose the lack of depth at times. The linebackers are the class of the defense and the defensive backfield is deep, but needs the cream to rise from all those players.
The improvement will show this season. While there will still be bumps on the road and the schedule does the team no favors, Syracuse will get back to a bowl. Write them down for sweeping the five winnable games at home, and give them two upsets over an NC State team overlooking them and a ranked Miami team. Add on a win in a shootout in a bowl and SU ends the season 8-5 with things really looking up.
The downside of having this successful a season? Head coach Dino Babers will lose the ability to ask fans to “Have faith: belief without evidence.” Of course, Babers will have something else for the fans. He’s had a lot of answers thus far and will show that he has more to come.