Entering Dino Babers 3rd season at Syracuse, a bowl seems within reach. The Orange, who won 4 games in each of the last 2 regular seasons, have a lot back on offense. They play uptempo, and want to score fast. We know this. Tons of plays. They have a quarterback in Eric Dungey who can absolutely light it up (as long as he’s healthy). The big question: can they stop anyone whatsoever? This is a team who gave up 64, 56, and 42 to end the season, and as we’ll get into, it’s not like world-beaters are being added. Maybe another year in the scheme will help, maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t, this team could play some of the most entertaining games you’ll see all season.
The markets have their win total for the year at 5.5 -125/-105 (5D), 5.5 +100/-120 (BOL), and 5.5 -140/+110 (DSI). Based on those numbers, a bowl seems possible. They haven’t been to one since 2013. Can they get back?
|8/31 (F)||@ Western Michigan||+0.5|
|11/3||@ Wake Forest||+9|
|11/17||Notre Dame (N – Bronx)||+15|
|11/24||@ Boston College||-9.5|
When Eric Dungey plays quarterback, good things happen. Through 9 games last year, Syracuse was 4-5 with Dungey at the helm, and while that doesn’t sound impressive, they had a win over Clemson as a 23-point dog, and close losses to Miami, Florida State and NC State. This team was competing. The problem for Dungey is that each of the last 2 years he’s missed the final 3 games. It’s hard to bank on your clutch performer when he’s never finished a season, so bettors looking to their over need to say their prayers before every snap this year. The rest of the offense falls into line well, with their entire running back corps returning, and the offensive line with their top 6 back. They’ll at least be able to protect Dungey until he takes off running. Wide receiver is a concern, as they lost their top 2 who combined for 2,200+ yards, but Dungey’s playmaking will no doubt get some guys open. They lose one of their co-OC’s, but Dino Babers calls his own plays and the team suits his style, so there’s continuity here.
Question marks for miles and miles. The defensive line is probably the group to be least concerned with, as they return many and have another year learning the “Tampa-2” system. At linebacker, everyone’s gone. If you’re reading this, drive to Syracuse right now and you could maybe walk-on and start. No really, I’ll wait. Just go. They need linebackers. Considering how awful the defense was at the end of last season, maybe that’s not so bad. Brian Ward is the DC, and came over with Babers a couple years ago. If they keep allowing 50+ points, I’d put forth an educated guess that someone new occupies the spot next season.
The non-conference slate features tough games at Western Michigan and vs. Notre Dame late in the season. The Notre Dame game is being played at Yankee Stadium and counts as a Syracuse home game, which is also a little tough for them, so it’s basically like they play 6 away from home. They do draw at Pittsburgh and home vs North Carolina from the Coastal, and home games vs NC State and Louisville are also absolutely winnable. Those are both teams who lost a great deal, and will probably need at least a year to reload (I’m a little higher on Louisville but think both could be “unders” in the conference).
Win/Total pick: Under 5.5 -105 (5D)
This was really a tough call for me, because the offense may be fantastic, especially if Dungey could ever play all 12. Even if I grant you wins against Western Michigan (Cuse -6 right now in Week 1 lines), Wagner, UConn and at Pitt right out off the bat, you still have a pretty reasonable amount of work ahead of you to get 2 more wins from those other 8 games. They probably have to win 2 of vs UNC, NC State and Louisville, or hope Wake Forest’s quarterback situation implodes and they fall apart. They will be underdogs a lot, and you need them to surprise. Considering how fragile the defense was last year and how unlikely improvement is, it’s just tough to see them outscoring the upper-echelon teams in the conference. I’ll lean under here.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
To say that the 2016 season was a rebuilding year for the Syracuse Orange seems to be selling it short. New head coach Dino Babers was going to turn everything completely upside down. Syracuse was going to play at a significantly faster tempo and that was going to expose an already-porous defense. Things played out in a way that would suggest that Syracuse was a team in transition. The Orange went 4-8, gave up over 38 points per game, and gained a lot more yards. Unfortunately, those yards didn’t translate to points as often as Babers would like.
Heading into Year 2 of the breakneck pace, Syracuse should be better equipped with the personnel that Babers needs in order to show some improvement. Nineteen returning starters make Syracuse one of the most experienced teams in the country. The more exciting brand of football should rejuvenate some interest from the students and the fan base, so there’s a lot to like about the direction that this program is heading.
That being said, a season win total like of 4.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook shows just how far this team has to go. The juice is slightly heavier on the under at -115, with the over at -105. Syracuse hasn’t won more than four games since 2013, so the bar isn’t all that high for Babers.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/1 (F)||Central Connecticut State||N/A||1|
|9/9||Middle Tennessee State||-7||0.70|
|9/30||@ NC State||+11.5||0.19|
|10/21||@ Miami (FL)||+16||0.11|
|11/4||@ Florida State||+23.5||0|
Total Expected Wins: 5.03
The most important player in Year 2 of a new scheme is the quarterback. Dino Babers seems to have a good one in Eric Dungey. The junior signal caller battled some injuries last season, but completed 64.8 percent of his passes with a 15/7 TD/INT ratio. Even better is that Zach Mahoney completed 60.7 percent of his throws with an 8/4 TD/INT ratio. It’s nice to have two competent quarterbacks in a scheme like this that is so reliant on quick tempo and efficiency. Orange quarterbacks averaged 321 passing yards per game and Dungey should put up huge numbers, as long as he stays in the lineup.
Dontae Strickland and Mike Neal will need to do a bit better in the running game, as that group only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, but this system is brutal on an offensive line. Not only did the big guys up front have to embrace a new playbook, many of them had limited college experience going into 2016. All five starters return this season, which should help the beleaguered running game and also cut down on the 38 sacks that Syracuse allowed. With the tempo and how quick the ball is supposed to get out, 38 sacks should never happen. The one enormous loss, though, is Amba Etta-Tawo, who caught 94 balls for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns. While the offensive line returning is huge, losing such a productive receiver hurts.
The Syracuse defense gave up 542 yards per game in conference play. Overall, the Orange allowed 6.9 yards per play. It was clear that the tempo on offense hurt the defense, especially with a fair number of three-and-out sequences. Syracuse gave up 5.4 yards per carry on the ground and got worn down by superior opponents. Louisville outgained Syracuse by 431 yards in a game where the offense managed 414 yards. Florida State had 654 yards. Pitt had 644. Clemson had 565. NC State had 544.
We knew it was going to be ugly because Syracuse gave up 31 points per game in 2015 under Scott Shafer while playing a more traditional offensive system. How quickly this group can come together will determine Syracuse’s ceiling. The offense will undoubtedly improve. Will the defense? Ten starters are back and Babers has had two recruiting classes to bring in depth and athleticism to fit what needs to be done.
Syracuse has a chance to get some chemistry and confidence rolling as a clear favorite in each of the first three games. They’ll hit a huge wall with LSU, NC State, Pitt, Clemson, Miami, and Florida State in the span of six weeks, but improvement is certainly possible this season. Syracuse is a long trip for ACC foes and the Carrier Dome plays right into what Babers wants to do offensively, so it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see one really significant upset at home.
Win Total Pick: Over 4.5
Perhaps I’m a bit higher on Syracuse than others, but this is a team that should improve. Babers had tons of success at Eastern Illinois. He inherited a better foundation at Bowling Green than he did at Syracuse, but he still had a dramatic overhaul to incorporate at BG and did so with a lot of success. A full summer of understanding the playbook and a rigorous year of workouts to be better prepared for the tempo should help Syracuse immensely.