Item: With the recent developments remaking the SU basketball roster for next season dominating the headlines in Orange Nation, along with the lacrosse team readying itself for a three game ACC blitz that will define its post season NCAA hopes, Dino Babers and the football team have quietly gone about their business in spring practice of eliminating the nasty taste of a dismal one-win 2020 campaign.
The good news for Syracuse football this spring is there’s no place to go but north in the ACC standings come fall.
That’s what happens when the program suffered only its fourth one-victory season since the end of World War II (1945, 1948, 2005) in 2020. The schedule returns to a semblance of normalcy with four opening non-conference games that offer the perfect blend of opposing talent levels to formulate how best to win in the eight ACC games that follow.
Then there’s the roster. It’s a unique mix of experienced depth featuring an unheard of eight sixth year players taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, the judicious use of the transfer portal, younger players stockpiled by conventional redshirting, and the most impressive all-around recruiting class in the staff’s six seasons.
“This year really reminds me of the year we went 5-7 (2019),” Babers said this spring as practice got underway. “We went 10-3 the year before, and we started with the team and everybody is saying this and saying that. (Then) we’re on the stairs of the mayor’s office getting awards given to a team that had nothing to do with it (2018 success).”
“We understand what happened last year, but that team has nothing to do with what this team is going to do. It is entirely a brand-new day,” Babers added. “Things that go on now with transfer portals, you’re (seeing) with the (SU) basketball team and all around the country, the teams change drastically from year to year. Based off of our record last year (1-10), it’s going to have nothing to do with this year’s team.”
Besides sharing his excitement for the opportunity to teach fundamentals this spring after COVID-19 put a halt to such activities a year ago, Babers is also anxious to put his finished product back on the team’s homefield with real faces in the crowd.
“I would like to think that come July, things are going to go back to normal around here (related to pandemic restrictions),” the coach predicted. “I would like to think that in the fall we’re going to have the people in the community and the student body (are) going to get to see the doggone Dome for the very first time. (Our home) we’ve already looked at for a year with a lot of empty seats around us.”
Way back when, aka the 1980s, Babers could not have predicted he would be in the coaching business this long. In fact, making it to his sixth year guiding the Syracuse program is something only four other coaches (Ben Schwartzwalder, Frank Maloney, Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni) have accomplished in the last 72 seasons of Orange football.
Circa 1985, Babers was a graduate assistant at Arizona State after his playing career at Hawaii. The start of spring practice, getting back to the basics of ‘Cuse football, offered him a chance to reminisce.
“I (recently) got my AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) plaque that I’ve been in the business 35 years,” Babers marveled. “I can still remember when I started in 1985. I saw someone walking around talking about that they were a 35 year member of college coaching, and I said ‘I will never be one of those guys. 35 years?’”
With that realization Babers now embarks on his most critical season of resurrecting the SU program since he arrived on campus in December 2015.