Football season is almost finally upon us and Syracuse enters the year with its highest expectations in over a decade.
Win projections for the Orange are all over the map. There is certainly a target on the back of the program following its first winning season since 2013.
One thing is clear though, a 6-6 season would be nothing but a disappointment. The fact the expectations are raised is a credit to the job Dino Babers has done in revitalizing the team.
In addition to the high hopes that follow SU around, there is a sense of a much higher floor. From 2014 to 2017, Syracuse did not win more than four games.
For the first time since Doug Marrone was the head coach, there is an expectation for the Orange to finish the season with a winning record. 6-6 being a disappointment is a good thing. It shows how much Babers has shifted the perception of the team.
And he deserves that kind of credit. This is solidly his team now. Only a few players remain from the Scott Schafer era and the key playmakers across the board are Babers recruits, whether it was out of high school or as transfer targets.
Only Christopher Fredrick, Andrejas Duerig, Jake Pickard, Evan Adams and Sterling Hofrickter remain of players recruited who entered the season with Shafer as the head coach. Babers took over at the end of 2015, meaning the 2016 class all knew with plenty of time that he was going to be the head coach.
This team is all Babers’ and has his fingerprints all over it.
Some of the new perception, or perhaps just the return to what Syracuse football used to be perceived as, comes from Babers’ leadership. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Something players have come to respect.
It is far from a guarantee the Orange will be as good as the pundits suggest. However, let’s revisit where Syracuse was a year ago.
The most optimistic of media members pegged SU to go 7-5. Plenty had them at 6-6 and many had them missing out on the postseason by going 5-7.
No one had this team going 10-3. At least no one who wanted to maintain credibility.
Fast forward to the present, where the most conservative of media members are picking Syracuse to go 7-5. 9-3 predictions are commonplace.
The only source of pessimism stems from Las Vegas. Several sportsbooks have set the over/under for Syracuse at just 5.5 wins. It is difficult to dismiss Vegas, as it usually wins out, but I’m willing to put more faith than that in Babers.
College sports, unlike anything at the professional level, has a propensity to associate teams with their head coach.
With the system in place in college football, Alabama becomes Nick Saban’s program. Jimbo Fisher built a legacy at Florida State and now it tasked with turning around Texas A&M.
Recruiting relies heavily on the coaching running the show. As a result, finding a head coach capable of commanding that type of respect and longevity is crucial.
Now, it might be a bit premature to put Babers in the same breath as Saban and Fisher, but he holds that same amount of value to Syracuse.
He has turned the program around in a way no one else could. If this type of success continues, it will only be a matter of time before Babers becomes synonymous with Syracuse.