Item: The program-forwarding momentum of last year’s success is not translating to this season for the Syracuse football team. The struggles now even extend to the ubiquitous mobile app NCAA Football money lines this week. Wherever we looked, Pittsburgh (4-2, 1-1) is the point spread favorite to win inside the Dome Friday night (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPN), meaning the Orange at 3-3 and 0-2 in the ACC doesn’t even hold a homefield advantage inside their own (Loud?) House, on an evening when this conference game shares the TV stage with three others in FBS college football.
When portions of the football schedule first came out late last spring there was a clear reason why ESPN plucked the Pittsburgh game, a longtime intense Northeast rivalry that’s translated well into the ACC, as Syracuse’s second-straight weeknight conference game for its main network telecast. Syracuse was the hot offseason program in a league that desperately needs someone to compete with Clemson.
Right now, a look at the standings shows no one knows who’s going to challenge the defending champion Tigers, in either division, but with the way the ‘Cuse has played in its two league games, it’s not Syracuse.
“We’re 3-3, we’re not where we want to be, we’re not happy where (we are),” Dino Babers responded Monday at his weekly media gathering when asked about the state of his team.
So, what exactly is the answer with a talented Pitt program on deck, one that always seems to drive SU coaches nuts, not to mention having beaten Scott Shafer and/or Babers in five of the six ACC matchups?
“Get better, we’ve got to get better,” Babers said summing up the compact solution to Orange Nation’s head-scratching of a season that has yielded far too little improvement, especially to what’s supposed to be a lightning-fast offensive pace, not one seemingly retreating because of bad blocking or penalties.
“Everybody has a responsibility to get better,” Babers continued. “This is not throwing the O-Line (out there), this is the entire football team, coaches included. Everyone looks at their young players. Well your young players should be developing. But you have to lean on your older players. We need our older players, our best players, to be our best players. They have to play well.”
One of those older players on the defensive side that has done his part is senior linebacker Andrew Armstrong, a member of a unit that has stepped up (Armstrong and fellow senior Lakiem Williams have combined for a team-high 84 tackles, and he had his second career interception versus NC State) in front of a secondary still down two starters heading into Friday night’s game.
“We can only go up or down, it’s going to be up to the senior leadership to keep this team together,” Armstrong said following the NC State defeat. “We’ve got to stay together as a group and look forward to Pitt and beat those guys.”
The reality of a season that has yet to live up to expectations has provided Babers and his staff with plenty of teaching time both during practice, watching video and live, in-game, along with a lot of evaluation.
“My confidence is good, I know there may be some confidence lacking other places (media, talk shows, message boards), but my confidence is good,” Babers repeated Monday. “I’m glad that all the frost and fluff (preseason rankings and accompanying expectations) is gone. It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s not like you can just flip that light switch. What you see if what we are right now. The guys have put in (two) good days of practice and they’re ready to turn a new leaf. Hopefully we’ll get to see that Friday night.”