By now, most Syracuse fans are well aware of Dino Babers’ penchant for movies. He loves them. And he loves to reference them even more.
If there’s one movie that has mimicked Syracuse’s close to the season and the ensuing offseason, it has to be Rounders. Think about it.
A late October victory against Boston College in the Dome had the Orange sitting at 5-4; a mere one win away from bowl eligibility after the train wreck 1-10 season a year ago.
All Syracuse needed was one win over the final three games. But like life in the ACC has been for the Orange, the league punched Syracuse right in the mouth over the last three games to finish at a disappointing 5-7.
And just like in Rounders, Mike McDermott and his buddy, Worm, take a beating from a bunch of cops when they were caught cheating when it appeared they could line their pockets against a roomful of amateurs.
With nothing left but his pride and needing to come into some cash before Grama came to collect his debt, Mike returned to face Teddy KGB. Just like Dino turned towards the offseason.
Dino knew he needed some serious upgrades in a few areas to take the next step against a league that has been beating him down. Just like Mike knew he had to beat the unflappable KGB in a heads-up game.
“You’re on a draw, Mike? Go away. This one is no good for you.”
Might as well have been the rest of the ACC talking to Dino.
That’s when Dino Babers started playin’ some cards.
Dino’s offseason to date:
Keeping Their Own
Syracuse had some important players weighing big decisions in the offseason. And in all three cases, the coin came up Orange.
Despite speculation of him transferring to a factory, Sean Tucker returned to run roughshod all over the ACC again. I’m sure the fans and the staff found that decision pleasing.
Mikel Jones – arguably the leader of the defense – opted to return as well. Jones is one of the best linebackers in the ACC and is sure to be a force again this season.
Garrett Williams also elected to return to anchor one of the cornerback spots. Williams burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman and was nothing short of sensational. He had a solid sophomore season too and will be counted on to lead a deep, talented secondary.
Syracuse isn’t typically found near the top of the recruiting rankings in the ACC. But one thing they did do this year was close well.
Four of their six highest ranked recruits per the 247Sports Composite rankings came during December or later. Hopefully that momentum will continue with a few early Class of 2023 commits.
Babers and his staff have successfully mined the portal to improve multiple areas of the team. Alijah Clark and Bralyn Oliver strengthen a secondary that already returned Garrett Williams, Duce Chestnut, Ja’Had Carter, Jason Simmons, Rob Hanna, Justin Barron, and Neil Nunn.
As a bonus, Clark is a Jersey kid transferring from Rutgers and Oliver is transferring from conference foe Louisville. Those are two important recruiting wins, even though they are through the portal.
Dan Villari should bring more quarterback depth while possibly unseating Garrett Shrader. Villari transferred in from Michigan and has a similar game to Shrader. If he can provide the Orange with a potent passing attack, perhaps he can supplant Shrader the way Shrader took Tommy DeVito’s job.
C.J. Hayes is a wide receiver from Michigan State. If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. Trishton Jackson transferred to Syracuse from MSU and provided instant offense. Jackson was a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Syracuse’s wide receiver group has some potential with the likes of Cournty Jackson – who played well as the year went on – Damien Alford, Anthony Queeley, Trebor Pena, and Oronde Gadsden. But they could use a receiver who commands attention anytime he’s on the field.
Rounding out the transfers in running back Juwaun Price from New Mexico State. Price is the ideal back to provide Tucker some rest. And he could be a nice replacement the following year should Tucker leave for the NFL after next season.
Babers shook up his staff after the season. The most notable additions are Robert Anae and Jason Beck, formerly of the Virginia Cavaliers. Both coaches will resume their prior roles as Anae will be the offensive coordinator and Beck will serve as the quarterbacks coach.
Anae and Beck were the drivers behind Virginia’s No.2 rated passing offense last season. The hope is that both men can ignite Syracuse’s passing game. A competent aerial attack will make Sean Tucker that much more of a force on the ground. It will also provide Syracuse with more fire power that they’ll need to compete against a tough ACC in the upcoming season.
Analyzing the Analytics
Questionable coaching decisions and strategies arguably cost Syracuse wins against Rutgers, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Clemson last season. Babers is now in the market for a Director of Football Analytics. The job description includes:
The Director of Football Analytics will oversee the strategic plan of the Syracuse Football analytics program. This individual will be responsible for incorporating modern ideas and data driven decision-making processes to the football program. In addition, the position will be responsible for data collection, organization, analysis, and distribution to the football staff. Other duties will include studying in-game strategy trends for coaches, reviewing game prep processes, reviewing game-planning on the personnel side, recruiting analysis, and assessing the short and long-term success metrics. This individual will complete various other tasks as assigned by the Head Coach.
Babers is seeking any edge to help turn some of those losses into wins.
This brings us back to Rounders.
The ACC thinks Dino and Syracuse is a punching bag. Just like Teddy KGB had Mike on the ropes before Mike discovered his tell.
“You feeling satisfied now, Teddy? ‘Cause I can go on bustin’ you up all night.”
So, what’s left for Dino on his Offseason To Do List to round (yes, pun) out the roster?
Syracuse’s offensive line made significant improvements last year – most notably in the running game. Only 6-year super senior Aron Servais doesn’t return. Plus, Babers hopes to have a completely healthy Chris Bleich after offseason surgery.
Depth along the offensive line has proven to be critical. The staff would be wise to secure another lineman via the transfer portal. An improved passing game will only come if the line can provide time to throw.
This unit loses the most as Josh Black, Kingsley Jonathan, Cody Roscoe, and McKinley Williams all exhausted their eligibility. And Curtis Harper elected to transfer. Caleb Okechukwu and some talented, albeit young and unproven players, return. The staff is hoping for contributions from Terry Lockett, Jatius Geer, Chase Simmons, and Elijah Fuentes-Cundiff. Also, Francois Nolton is on campus now having enrolled early. Having the benefit of spring practice might help him earn some snaps before the year is out.
Returning at this position is Chris Elmore (jack of all trades), Maximilian Mang (who excelled at blocking in the run game), and Steven Mahar, Jr.
The tight end was a non-factor in the passing game the past two seasons. With Anae and Beck in charge of the offense, that certainly could – and should – change. So it’s hard to forecast what to expect. But landing a proven pass catcher from the portal couldn’t hurt.
So here’s what’s new in the world of recruiting offers this week.
- Myles Cecil is a defensive lineman from Cal Poly who has thrown his hat into the portal. Syracuse recently offered.
- Nick Monroe was at it again recently offering Ryan Powell out of Warren, OH last week. Powell is a 6-foot-1, 215-pound RB/DE.
- Rueben Owens, a 5-star running back from Texas, was also recently offered. Owens should be in consideration for the top running back in high school for the Class of 2023. His offer list is a who’s who of college football. But with Sean Tucker’s success, and a possible job to walk into as a true freshman, why not throw their hat into the ring?
- From the hardwood, 4-star combo guard Judah Mintz recently scheduled an official visit with Syracuse for the weekend of February 25-27 as noted by Mike McAllister of SI.
- A commitment from Mintz would only add to a loaded class for Jim Boeheim.
But back to football…
Results off the field are great. And if Dino Babers and Syracuse have as good a year in the upcoming season as they did in this offseason, Orange fans will be quoting Teddy KGB.
“Pay that man his money!”