Schafer: Syracuse football is back

first_img Comments WINSTON-SALEM, N.C — Chris Fredrick paraded down the sidelines, celebrating Syracuse’s third turnover of the game which sealed a 41-24 win over Wake Forest. It was the first weekend of November. It was the same weekend that came after victories over Virginia Tech in 2016 and Clemson in 2017, the wins that were supposed to solidify Dino Baber’s “belief without evidence.” It was also the weekend that, for the past three seasons, featured a conference road loss, an Eric Dungey injury, and the start of downhill spirals for Syracuse’s once-promising seasons.After Paul Pasqualoni left in 2004, Syracuse recorded three winning seasons leading up to 2018. Scott Shafer, who preceded Babers as head coach, once negated a loss by saying it’s more important to discuss ISIS and later demoted his offensive coordinator midseason. The next season, he hyped the Orange’s first 3-0 start in 24 years, only to finish the season 4-8. After the final game of that 2015 season, Syracuse’s last November victory, players carried Shafer off the field. So in December 2015, when Syracuse head coach Dino Babers challenged media and fans to close their eyes and believe, there was nothing to lose. But after Babers famously declared the Carrier Dome “Our House” after an upset of then-No. 17 Virginia Tech, it didn’t win at home again all season. After Syracuse upset then-No. 2 Clemson and Babers said he came to Syracuse for “games that mattered,” it lost the final five games of the season. But now it’s time to believe Babers and No. 19 Syracuse. Syracuse’s season this year won’t be remembered by six wins and a trip to a bowl game. In 2018, Syracuse’s first November win under Dino Babers cemented the program’s first winning regular season since 2012. On the weekend that’s haunted Syracuse (7-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast), it’s second road ACC win under Babers legitimized SU.“We’ve had some bad luck on the road. We finally get that monkey off our back,” Babers said. “… We’re talking about a bunch of guys that have been in college four or five years and have never had a winning season … Can’t say enough about what they’ve done to change this culture here at Syracuse University and give us an opportunity to do greater things in the future. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Regardless of whatever happens, they’re going to be known as the class that got this thing turned around and headed back in the right direction.”It’s taken a while to buy into the most exciting Syracuse season since 2001, when the majority of this roster wore diapers. When Syracuse beat Florida State in September for the first time in 52 years, it had the feeling of this year’s rendition of the Clemson upset. Then two weeks later, Syracuse led Clemson by 10 in the fourth quarter before succumbing to running back Travis Etienne and the Tiger rushing attack. The Orange allowed 305 rushing yards rushing to Tiger running backs. Against Pittsburgh the next week, Syracuse led by 14 points. Then it tried, and failed, to stop the run. The Panthers backs combined for 305 yards. As the game carried into overtime, an Eric Dungey interception closed the door on Syracuse cracking the Top 25 the following Sunday. Two wins out of the bye week, including a 10-point win over then-No. 22 North Carolina State, proved Syracuse could compete in the Carrier Dome as it had in past years. Last Sunday’s AP Poll ranked Syracuse for the first time in 17 years, and the Orange made its inaugural appearance in the College Football Playoff rankings.Still, the prospects of Syracuse’s season were murky. The Orange “should” beat Wake Forest. It couldn’t be said with certainty. They hadn’t won a conference road game since 2016. Without it, how good could they be?So when SU trailed Wake Forest by 10 points not halfway through the first quarter, it looked like Pittsburgh all over again. As Wake Forest often dropped seven or eight players into coverage, Dungey’s passes sailed over Sean Riley’s head on the sideline, or behind him on a slant, or landed in Jamal Custis hands only to be batted away by a lurking defender. After three drives totaled 14 yards, Syracuse, which has been defined by its passing game under Babers, pivoted to a heavy run game. The Orange finished with 107 more rushing yards than it threw for and scored all five of its touchdowns on the ground. They allowed 11 points in the final three quarters, tallied five sacks and increased their season total to 27. Syracuse passed the test. “At some point, it clicked in the majority of this team’s mind that you were recruited for a reason,” junior defensive end Kendall Coleman said on Oct. 30. “This is DI, Power 5, ACC football, and they suit up just like we do. Let’s go fight and find out who’s better.”Marquee wins over ranked opponents in the Carrier Dome sprinkled in hope during Babers’  first two seasons, but not consistency. In Year 3, Syracuse has advanced one step further. A conference win on the road is the mark of a competitive football team.Syracuse, which hasn’t lost in the Carrier Dome this season, will handle 2-7 Louisville on Friday night in Dungey’s final home game. With two Top-25 opponents looming before a bowl game to close the season, Syracuse is in the bonus. Babers promised a return to prominence.Open your eyes. It’s reality. Syracuse football is back.  Josh Schafer is the sports editor for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at jlschafer@syr.edu or @ Schafer_44.  Published on November 4, 2018 at 8:08 pm Contact Josh: jlschafe@syr.edu | @Schafer_44center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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