Item: The timetable is arriving even faster than our definition of the speed of a 24 hour cycle. A day is a week; a week is a month; and a month is a quarter. Following the completion of only the eighth game of Dino Babers third season, and thinking back to the ”close your eyes” sermon he steadfastly recited to those on hand at his introductory press conference almost 36 months ago, Syracuse football is once again “relevant” nationally. That by definition is being ranked in the weekly Top 25 polls for the first time in 17 long seasons, which when released Sunday afternoon show the Orange at No. 22 in the media voting in the Associated Press poll (just ahead of Virginia and B.C. and joined by No. 2 Clemson as the ACC’s surprising quartet of ranked teams), and No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Wasn’t it just a week ago that the only question that mattered surrounding Syracuse football was who would be taking the offensive snaps in the first quarter versus North Carolina State?
Now following Saturday night’s thrilling 51-41 finishing off of the then-No. 22 ranked Wolfpack in front of the largest announced Dome crowd (40,796) of the season, the dialogue has changed to how many wins are left on the schedule starting with the challenge of getting a rare ACC road win (4-18 in league games away from the Dome since joining in 2013) at Wake Forest Saturday afternoon (12:00 p.m. ET / ACCRSNs – Sirius XM Radio); and how many rungs up the ACC bowl game protocol ladder the ‘Cuse can climb between now and the Saturday after Thanksgiving?
While several of this team’s checklist of items are starting to be satisfyingly accomplished, beginning with bowl eligibility guaranteeing a 13th game, extra December practice time right in front of the early recruiting signing period, the Top 25 polls, and protecting “Our House” to the tune of a 5-0 record, the speed to which all of this has happened under Babers meticulous attention to all aspects of being the program’s CEO is still a tad stunning, especially considering there’s only been four bowl appearances this century.
“To have an opportunity to be able to experience that (a winning season for the team’s seniors) is something I’ll always cherish, and something I’ll always be proud of,” Babers said in his typical fashion of deflecting credit for success to others after the NCSU win.
It’s clear in the rich-get-richer world of the Power Five programs in college football, and with Babers having so many connections among administrators and coaches tied to his four decade career, how Syracuse finishes this football season is going to come under close inspection in some distant locales. No doubt Babers name is going to continue to be tied to vacancies when there’s openings among some of the other four power conference programs being swayed with more money, perks and facilities over his current position.
While Syracuse athletics can’t complete on the same financial plane as most of its state and land grant university counterparts, the economics dictate that the cost to have Chancellor Kent Syverud and athletic director John Wildhack work the Board of Trustees and major donors to put together a package to keep Babers long term into the 2020s, and with a huge buyout clause designed to prevent poaching, is less than losing Babers and having to nail down the program’s head coach for the third time since 2013.
“It’s not over (there’s plenty left to accomplish),” Babers said this past weekend after becoming the first SU coach in the program’s modern history to win six games or more in his third season. “We look at our season in two halves. The second half of our season we’re 2-0, so we still have goals out there, we still have goals that need to be met.”
For Orange Nation, the most important goal is maintaining the consistency of having Dino Babers building the program back to its glory run of 13 bowl game appearances and regular national poll rankings between 1987 and 2004.