Item: After becoming one win shy of bowl eligibility following the home win over Boston College the day before Halloween, it’s critical to the program’s future that Syracuse seals the deal with an upset victory over 20th ranked Pittsburgh Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET/ACC Network) in the regular season finale in the Dome.
Just how vital is making a bowl game for Dino Babers and the Syracuse football program? Let us highlight the reasons why it is imperative to go bowling in Babers sixth season and the ninth year of ACC play:
- The key experienced seniors. Six players announced heading into the season that they would take advantage of being given another year of eligibility by the NCAA due to the pandemic-plagued 2020 campaign. With the unique classification of being redshirt seniors, defensive linemen Josh Black, Kingsley Jonathan, Cody Roscoe, and McKinley Williams, along with offensive lineman Airon Servais, all made a commitment to return after the 1-10 disaster. They deserve to go out with a bang this time around. On a side note, Babers announced Monday that fellow senior, fullback Chris “Rhino” Elmore, is going come back for another year in 2022 after being injured and playing in only four games this season. He’ll then be listed by class as a redshirt senior as well.
- Showcasing Sean Tucker. After bursting on the scene last year as a true freshman, all Tucker has done so far through 11 games is set the school’s single season rushing record, eclipsing the mark set by Joe Morris in the 1979 season that consisted of no home games on campus. Tucker, who was inexplicably not one of three finalists announced Tuesday for the Doak Walker award for the nation’s top running back, has run into defenses specifically designed to stop him, and his production has tapered off a tad in two November games. However, with 233 carries for a record 1,467 yards and 12 touchdowns, seeing Tucker play in a bowl game would be another couple of weeks of deserved national attention for SU’s 2021 All-American player.
- Recruiting. As Syracuse heads into the early signing period from December 15-17, the program needs to be preparing for a bowl game. Five of the seven ACC Atlantic Division teams have become bowl eligible, and Florida State can join the mix if it defeats rival Florida this weekend. Overall, the ACC could potentially field 12 of its 14 teams in bowl game so SU cannot afford to be outside looking in, not to be practicing for another game at the time recruits are signing letters of intent. The Orange have received 10 verbal commitments, and the staff has been busy on the recruiting trail with only three weeks to go until the December three day window. Recruits want to know the program they’re committing to is bowl-bound.
- The state of the program. Will he stay, or will he go? There’s been so much chatter on social media channels and Orange Nation message boards about Babers future. A bowl game will almost assuredly mean Babers returns for his seventh season, and stability is critical for any program’s success. Asked about his future on Monday at his final weekly in-season press conference, Babers proclaimed, “This is a very easy question to answer. My job belongs to my employer, my career belongs to me. I only control the things that I can control. I also believe that good coaches get hired, and good coaches get fired. And, really, really, really good coaches, get rehired. But I’ve always thought that for 35 years whether I was an assistant, a coordinator, or a head coach. It’s not the most important thing.”
- Setting up the 2022 season. There’s nothing like a bowl game victory, or at least an appearance in a bowl game, to provide momentum heading into winter workouts, February recruiting, spring football, and promoting ticket sales for next season. The home schedule features non-conference games against Notre Dame (first Dome appearance since 2003) and Purdue, and ACC teams including Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina State, and Virginia. With an average announced home attendance of 33,164 in six games heading into the meeting with Pittsburgh (a number potentially less than the upcoming Duke basketball game on February 26), and having spent $118 million to refurbish the Dome, Syracuse needs to win to put fans back in the stands.