For so long, the Syracuse University football team was spoiled with continuity. From 1991-2004, Paul Pasqualoni roamed the sidelines, leading the Orange(men, back then) to 107 wins. Sure, the Pasqualoni Era didn’t end very ceremoniously. But, for the better part of a decade and a half, there was security in knowing who was leading the football team and there was trust that he would produce winning results.
Since then, Syracuse fans have lived through Greg Robinson…ugh. Then Doug Marrone came along, claiming his “dream job” and central New Yorkers all over felt Syracuse returning to prominence with two bowl game wins in three years. But, those hopes were whisked away when Marrone bolted for the NFL. Next up was Scott Shafer…woof.
But then walked in Dino Babers. And despite back-to-back 4-8 seasons to start his Syracuse tenure, there were signs. There was Virginia Tech in 2016. Then there was Clemson last season…and then nearly again this season. And the speeches…oh, the speeches.
And all of a sudden…9-3 happened. And the coach who finished second in the ACC Coach of the Year voting (being snubbed of the award in the process) is wearing Syracuse orange. That has the Orange faithful casting one eye on how great it is to get to nine wins for the first time since this scribe was a mere 18-year old college freshman. The other eye watches, wondering: will Dino bolt, too?
As head coaching openings begin to form across the NCAA landscape and Babers becomes a more viable name to fill those openings. But the equation has changed over the past three years. When comparing Syracuse versus another job, it’s important to remember that it’s not just Syracuse versus a mid-level Power 5 school. The new equation is the current Syracuse program three years in versus a mid-level Power 5 school.
Rebuilding takes time, patience, and a fan base that’s willing to buy in. A factor to consider is that Babers may not want to start over from scratch again when he is already at a Power 5 school that is already situated to compete at a high level.
With that in mind, here are what we know is available:
- Maryland: Babers would be walking into a messy situation with a coach that exited on less than glamorous terms.
- Louisville: Louisville has the facilities and potentially the money. But Bobby Petrino had a very favorable contract that puts the Cardinals in a financial bind.
- Colorado: Unless Babers is itching to go back to the Pac 12 (he was once a coach at UCLA) this seems to be a lateral move at best.
- Texas Tech: Getting into the Big 12 could be seen as an upgrade, but maybe just a mild one.
Other Power 5 conference possibilities that could arise:
- Kansas State: See Texas Tech.
- Oklahoma State: See Texas Tech and Kansas State.
- Arkansas: Jumping to the SEC would get Babers in the right conference and potentially at the right price. But, at bottom-dwelling Arkansas, it would be tough to compete with the big boys in the conference and specifically Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.
- Tennessee: The Volunteers aren’t getting rid of Jeremy Pruitt after one season.
- Auburn: Gus Malzahn doesn’t appear to be heading out of Auburn just yet, and even if he was, Babers is not at the top of their list.
- UCLA: Chip Kelly will be given a bit longer to implement his system in sunny California.
- Oklahoma: If Lincoln Riley makes his way to an NFL sideline next season, this would be the cream of the crop.
So, what would entice Babers to leave? At this point, only the long shot of Riley leaving Oklahoma could potentially have a ripple effect on Babers. Even if Babers isn’t on the shortlist to replace Riley, Oklahoma would likely pluck a Power 5 coach that is leaving a program in good shape, and Babers’ name would certainly come up in that search. The main difference is that Babers would be taking a program over that’s likely in better shape than any of the teams listed above.
Otherwise, Babers can stay put at Syracuse, have Eric Dungey pass the torch to Tommy DeVito and pick up where this season leaves off. In 2019, Syracuse’s toughest non-conference opponent is Maryland. They will play on the road against what will likely be a down Florida State and Louisville program, and their Coastal crossover game will be at Duke. They are at home during the final four games against Boston College, Clemson, Pitt and Wake Forest.
It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that the Orange could push for 10 wins next season if they carry the improvements from this season over into the next one.
Babers is on the radar of a lot of schools, for sure. But, whether it’s because those schools may not be ready to make a change, those schools are not a step up from where Babers is now or because Babers simply wants to see things through a bit more, the Syracuse football program should be thankful that it appears Babers doesn’t have many great options elsewhere. And maybe, just maybe, Babers actually likes it at Syracuse.
But, if Syracuse experiences the same successes next season that it has this season, it may be tough to keep the coach responsible for the most success the Orange have seen in nearly 20 years in central New York.