In 2016, we’ve penned in eight teams that will appear on our schedule more than one time. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages we’re hearing about as these teams prepare for their upcoming spring practice sessions. It’ll give us an idea of what the teams will be focusing on before we get to see them in the fall.
Syracuse (2, or possibly 3 games) – The Syracuse Orange enter the 2016 season under the new leadership of HC Dino Babers. Babers has not only been a successful HC in his first four years in his first two programs, he’s also proven to be a quick turnaround artist which would be a boost for the Orange coming off a 4-8 season, 2-6 in the ACC. A graduate of Hawaii, like Navy HC Ken Niumatatolo, he has a four-year record of 37-16 including post-season play all four seasons.
At Eastern Illinois, he took the Panthers from last place to first place in the Ohio Valley Conference in his first season. An offensive-minded coach, his second year QB Jimmy Garoppollo won the 2013 Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS. He went on to be drafted by the New England Patriots to become Tom Brady’s back-up. After leaving EIU, Babers took over at Bowling Green State University in the Mid-American Conference. The Falcons won the Eastern division of the MAC both seasons under him. BGSU fell to Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game at the end of his first season, but rebounded to defeat South Alabama for the school’s first bowl win since 2004 in the Camellia Bowl. In 2015, the Falcons went on to a 10-4 record including a MAC championship win over NIU before a loss to Georgia Southern in the GoDaddy.com bowl. In his two seasons at Bowling Green, the Falcons posted three wins over Big Ten schools. His offense put up impressive numbers during the 2015 season to be a leader among FBS teams in several significant categories. They finished fourth in total offense with 546.8 yards per game, fifth in passing with 366.8 yards per game, and sixth in scoring averaging 42.2 points per game. His QB Matt Johnson was named the MAC offensive player of the year.
How will all this translate to success for the Orange in year one? SU returns two young, experienced QBs from a year ago who will compete to start this season. Soph Eric Dungey threw for 1,298 yards, 11 TDs, and five INTs in eight games. Junior Zack Mahoney threw for 535 yards, seven TDs, and two INTs. Both had to step in for injured senior QB Terrell Hunt. Whoever starts at QB will have a lot of experienced targets to throw to at WR, TE, and RB as the six top receivers return including WR Steve Ishmael who had 570 receiving yards and five TDs. Top RB Jordan Fredericks returns with 607 rushing yards as does another top RB, George Morris. It seems like Babers has some young experience to build with in addition to what many determine was a very good recruiting class in 2016. He focused on recruiting areas where he needs more size – offensive line, defensive line and linebackers. Of his 20 recruits six come from the state of Florida including the 7th ranked HS QB from that state in Rex Culpepper.
This looks to be a very interesting season for Syracuse against a solid ACC schedule (Louisville, at Clemson, and Florida State) and some good non-conference completion including South Florida, UConn, and Notre Dame. Babers has had winning records all four years as head coach and has made some quick turnarounds. He’s had great success in making his quarterbacks successful, and he’s got some young players who have some good experience in their first two years at Syracuse. Under Baber’s tutelage, it seems like his young players have gotten a coach who can teach and get them to the next level quickly. This will be a fun story to track in 2016.
Syracuse games we plan to see this season: Sept. 17 vs. South Florida; October 1, Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium; possibly at Clemson on November 5.
Spring game: April 2 at 1 pm in The Carrier Dome
Next up: Notre Dame