The Mid American Conference, otherwise known as the MAC, has always been a training ground for future Division 1 football coaches. Going back to the days of Woody Hayes at Ohio State and Bo Schembechler at Michigan who were both once the head coaches at Miami of Ohio.
Urban Meyer was the head coach for Bowling Green and the immortal Nick Saban got his first head job at Toledo.
Along with the success stories there are also failures, of course.
One coach from the MAC that I don’t believe will fail is Dino Babers the current coach at Syracuse.
After years as an assistant, Babers finally got his shot when Eastern Illinois, of the Ohio Valley Conference, hired him as their head coach before the 2012 season. Eastern Illinois is a fine school with alumni such as Tony Romo, Jimmy Garappolo, Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton and Brad Childress to name a few. The only problem is Eastern Illinois is Division 1AA.
Babers led the team to a 7-5 record in 2012 and then a stellar 12-2 record in 2013.
Bowling Green noticed and came calling.
His first season the Bowling Green Falcons were 8-6. Not impressive, but the 10-3 season that followed was a rather marvelous turnaround. That team was fun to watch and they were competitive with the big boys. As often as it happens to the MAC schools, Babers was quickly hired by the struggling Syracuse Orange football program.
But, Dino Babers’ first season at Syracuse was rough.
If your defense finished 122nd out of 128 teams, is it a good thing to have every starter back? Syracuse does return every starter from last year on defense. On the offensive side of the football, they return 9 starters.
The offense finished slightly better than the defense with a ranking of 42nd. It’s tough to attract top talent to Syracuse right now, but it is possible to have a good team there.
Heading thousands of miles East from Lake Oswego, Oregon, Eric Dungey has shown a lot of potential from day one when he started as a true freshman. At 6-3, 210, and very mobile, Dungey has the potential to be an exceptional Quarterback under Dino Babers just like Matt Johnson at Bowling Green in 2015.
Dungey is feisty, which was illustrated in the fight against Boston College in last year’s game. Incidentally, that is also the same game that demonstrated what kind of talent that Dungey has when
he threw 38 passes and completed 32 of them. He finished up with 434 passing yards and 3 Touchdowns against a Boston College defense that finished 9th in the country. Against Virginia Tech, Dungey ran for 106 yards in leading the Orange to a huge upset win.
Dungey has the talent, if he can stay healthy, to have a really big year in 2017. However, in two seasons at Syracuse, Dungey has not played a full year without injury.
Last season, the Syracuse Offensive Line was made up of two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. These guys are all back and they are experienced.
They did lose their top Wide Receiver Amba Etta-Tawo and Tight End Cameron MacPherson. MacPherson’s biggest claim to fame is being the grandson of former Syracuse head coach, Dick MacPherson. He was mostly a blocker.
Etta-Tawo is a big loss with his 94 receptions, but they do return other receivers Ervin Phillips who hauled in 90 catches and Steve Ishmael.
The school that is probably the most famous for Running Backs with it’s Jim Brown, Ernie Davis the first black Heisman Trophy winner, Floyd Little, Jim Nance and Larry Csonka really doesn’t have a top Running Back.
At Bowling Green, Babers had 1,000 yard rusher Travis Greene. People think that an offense like Syracuse runs is a passing game, but it’s more of a balanced offense that requires a good Running Back.
It’s not all about the Running Backs in a running game and a more experienced Offensive Line could improve the 3.20 yards per carry of 2016.
Across the line, the Defense had some of the same problems, youth. The Defensive Line played two freshman at the ends and two sophomores at the tackle positions.
The Orange was terrible against the run last season finishing nearly last in the country at 108 out of 128 schools.
That has to get better and really soon. I am hopeful with everybody else returning.
But, again, if your defense finishes nearly last in the nation, does returning every starter mean you will get better? Maybe Syracuse will answer that question in 2017.
They face a really tough schedule after three easy opening games and then a trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU.
Then, they get into a really tough ACC schedule and let’s just add that the ACC is the best conference in the nation right now. North Carolina State is up first followed by Pittsburgh and defending national champion Clemson. Up and coming Miami is next on the schedule. Then, Florida State, Wake Forest, Louisville and Boston College follow.
Syracuse may not win many more games than last season, but they will be better. Coach Dino Babers may have a long road ahead of him and fans are impatient.
But, this guy has a legitimate shot at turning this program around if given the time. The ACC is tough and right now they are the best conference in college football with Clemson and Florida State leading the way. Both of those schools are beating SEC schools for top talent on a regular basis.
Will Syracuse make it onto the polls in 2017? Probably not, but they should be improved and remember the name Tommy Devito for the future.