My 2022 SU Football Preview - Part 1: The Situation |

My 2022 SU Football Preview - Part 1: The Situation


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
The Situation

Every year I start out with a section entitled “The Situation”. It’s a sort of ‘State of the Program’ speech with a summary of its history, what happened in recent years, what happened last year and what needs to happen this year. But this season, I’ve got to start with the state of college football because things are happening that impact all programs and could have a huge impact on Syracuse.

The purposes of having conferences in college athletics are to: 1) Make scheduling easier: you’ve got four opponents you will play every year. You just need to decide on dates and times. 2) Create interest by making geographic rivalries into annual games. 3) Unite the smaller markets that are the lifeblood of college sports. 4) Allow fans and families to travel easily to road games. 5) Represent areas of the country. But the decisions these days are being made by TV executives who offer huge amounts of money to conferences to provide them with programming. And those TV executives feel that the way to get money back from those investments is to unite large TV markets, even though the larger a TV market is, the less interest there is in college sports there. They think that the Big Ten has ‘grabbed’ the New York market with Rutgers and the Chicago market with Northwestern. But what kind of ratings does a Rutgers-Northwestern game get in New York and Chicago? Now the Big Ten has achieved the dubious coup of sucking in Southern California and UCLA from the Pac 12 conference, “giving them” the Los Angeles market. This makes perfect sense to anyone who has no problem with USC being the same conference with Rutgers but not with Stanford.

What’s appearing in crystal balls is the image of two super-conferences, the SEC, (which has acquired Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12), and the Big 10, which will contain all the top programs and keep all the big money. They may even break away from the NCAA and run things themselves. I call this concept the college football ‘rapture’, with the favored schools creating a sort of mini-NFL and ‘leaving behind’ the rest of us. I think the football factories may be disappointed with this. They won’t be the NFL, just an NFL wannabe and the big powers who have fed on schools like Syracuse for years, will betaking each other on a week-to-week basis. Instead of going 12-0, 11-1 or maybe 10-2 in a bad year, they will be going 8-4 or maybe 4-8 How will their fans respond to that? They need to play teams like Syracuse in order to avoid having records like Syracuse. College sports maintains interest because everyone has at least one team in their area that is competing on the same level as the top teams. The left behind schools will have to make up more traditional conferences, based on logical geography and uniting those smaller markets. Those schools are likely to generate more interest and have more fun, finally having championships they can win while the powerhouses grapple constantly with each other.

Syracuse, throughout its history, has been in whatever the top level of college football has been: “big time”, Division 1, Division 1A, ‘power’ conferences. They’ve not been an elite program but they’ve competed with the elite programs. When I suggested we might be better off being left behind during the rapture, on poster declared that he wants SU to be sitting at the ‘adult’s table’. I responded by saying “That would be the NFL”. College football has always had different levels of competition and even elite college football is not the top level of competition in the sport. Schools like Mount Union and North Dakota State have never cared that there was a division above them. They’ve just been happily celebrating national championships. Schools like Boise State, Central Florida and Cincinnati have run the table and been told they still weren’t elite but they’ve been having a lot more fun than we have.

I very much doubt that Syracuse would be a candidate for a super conference. Maybe when this century began and the football team was in a streak of 15 straight winning seasons while the basketball team was contending for national titles we might have made it. We’re the 99th most successful team in college football since then: I-A Winning Percentage 2000-2021
The men’s basketball and lacrosse programs have declined. Last year was the first that all three teams had losing record in the school’s history. So the rapture decision won’t even be our choice. But I don’t know why we’d want to be in a super-conference when we’ve had the worst record in the ACC for football since we joined it:
Clemson 66-8, U of Miami 45-28, Florida State 43-29, Pittsburgh 44-31, Virginia Tech 45-33, North Carolina 37-37, Louisville 33-33, North Carolina State 34-40, Georgia Tech 32-41, Boston College 29-45, Virginia 28-45, Wake Forest 28-45, Duke 26-48, Syracuse 22-52 (Notre Dame 9-1, Maryland 3-5)
Imagine if we were in an eastern division of a Big 10 Super Conference with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and maybe Clemson and North Carolina. We’d be road kill. What would happen to our fan base if we regularly got beat by 4-5 touchdowns?

Oh yes, the money. We want our share of the big money. Our share is probably zero but even if we got it, the other super-conference members would get the same money so it would give us no competitive advantage over them. We wouldn’t be getting the extra money generated by bowls and championships. Our share of the big money wouldn’t turn us into Penn State or Ohio State. Of course the SU administration is famous for skimming off the top of the money the athletic program makes and using it to balance the university budget. Maybe they’d want that super-conference money to do that. That would turn our football players into the equivalent of boxing’s tomato cans, getting beat up just for the money. Then there’s the other sports programs that would dragged along with the football team, forced to play schools that are not their natural rivals – if they play their sport at all.

There’s also NIL – “name image and likeness”, a right the courts and congress have established that players can now make deals to lend their NIL to endorse products. The NCAA could have allowed this themselves years ago and put limits on how much they can get and set up programs to share it with the school or their teammates. But by fighting it they lost control of the situation. I’ve wondered if the money a star player can make from NIL might be better in a small market where they are a big fish in a small pond or better in a big market where they might be down the list of celebrities. But it’s also possible the super-conference teams may have greater opportunities to set up NIL deals and also greater competitive pressure to do so. There are already rumors of multi-million-dollar deals set up by boosters as recruiting incentives. And the NCAA may be powerless to do anything about it. Do we really want to get into that competition?

If this is, indeed the direction college football is going, I say, let them have their rapture. I’d rather be among the left behind and design an NCAA division and conferences that make sense and resemble what we grew up with. Being left out would not be a demotion. We just wouldn’t be going up to a new floor the big money has just built. That just isn’t the floor we want to get off on.

But if we do want to present a case for our being included in the rapture, we’d better get going. We’ll need a season like we had in 2018, when we went 10-3 and were seconds away from beating both Clemson and Pittsburgh, which would have put us in the ACC championship game and made us a candidate for the national championship playoff. And then we’ll need another one to prove that that was no fluke, as opposed to three straight losing seasons which is what did follow that year up with. I think we’ll have our best team since 2018 but that level of sustained achievement is highly unlikely. In recent years I’ve begun my previews by stressing that the time to demonstrate that that 2018 team is who we are now and the subsequent dip was a fluke is slipping away: if we keep having losing records, it’s 2018 that will be seen by fans, the media and recruits as the fluke. Well, we are there. It was obviously a fluke. The fact that the 1-10 season just two years later can also be seen as a fluke doesn’t help much: it means the 4-8 and 5-7 seasons we’ve been having basically is who we are.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t build the program back up from that. Ben Schwartzwalder built the program up from virtually nothing in the 1950’s by improving the talent level year by year. He had a false positive in 1952 when eastern football had collapsed, and we won the Lambert Trophy but were buried in the Orange Bowl under the Crimson Tide of Alabama. But he kept working at it and strung together winning seasons, (playing a fairly weak eastern schedule), but lucked into having a surpassing talent join his team in Jim Brown, who elevated the team to another Lambert Trophy and major bowl bid in 1956. This time we played on even terms with Texas Christian in the Cotton Bowl and regaining respect the program had lost. Three years later the talent level had reached the point that, with another huge talent, Ernie Davis, we had one of the best teams in history and won our only national championship.

The coming of two platoon football, which more than doubled recruiting requirements, crumbing or non-existent facilities, a black players boycott and a committee that issued a pessimistic report on the future of the program brought things back full circle by the end of Ben’s tenure and we had a long run of mediocrity or worse, (mostly worse). Dick McPherson pulled us out of that in the 1980’s the same way Ben did – hard work and perseverance. He had two losing seasons, then three straight winning season and a bowl loss, then another losing season, then a huge breakthrough in 1987, which led to 15 consecutive winning years, another great achievement. But then we let things slide again and have now had four winning seasons, (all capped by minor bowl victories), in 20 years. We need to continue to build to get out of this.

But Dino Babers, our otherwise popular coach, now has a record of 5 losing season in 6 years. Many people – and around the country - are surprised he still has a job. He has a contract through 2024 and the university is not anxious to pay him that money and hire another head coach before that. On top of that, Dino has assembled what looks like the best group of assistant coaches we’d had in a long time. He came bringing a lot of guys who had been on his staff at his first jobs at Eastern Illinois and then Bowling Green. He also had a ‘system’ for both training his team and conducting games he called “Orange is the new fast”. He’d put up huge offensive numbers at those stops: at EIU he had a team where the QB, (Jimmy Garoppolo) threw 53 TD passes and two running backs totaled 2,500 yards rushing. At BG, Matt Johnson passed for 46 TDs and two backs totaled 2,100 yards. We haven’t seen those numbers here, although we have seen some opposing teams roll up numbers like that.

Dino has revamped his staff, bringing in Tony White as defensive coordinator: in his second year last year we had the third best defense in the conference until a bad November dropped us to 6th. He brought in Mike Schmidt, (no, not that one), to be the offensive line coach and running game coordinator and Sean Tucker set the schools’ single-season rushing record. Now, with the retirement of Virginia, (and former BYU) head coach Broncho Mendenhall, offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterback coach Jason Beck became available and agreed to come to Syracuse. From, the university’s athletic website: “(Anae’s) most recent unit – the 2021 Virginia squad – was one-of-five programs in the FBS this season to average over 500 yards of total offense, averaging 515.8. Their total offense number and passing yardage average (396.2) are both program records. They ranked second nationally in passing yardage last year…Between 2013 and 2021, quarterbacks under Beck have averaged 3,367 passing yards and 514 rushing yards a season for an average of 3,881 yards of total offense”. Give me some of that.

Of course last season everyone was excited because the SU lacrosse team was to be coached by the greatest offensive player ever: SU’s own Gary Gait and the greatest defensive player ever: Johns Hopkins’s Dave Pietramala. They went 4-10 because neither coach could play in the games. The players had to win them and they weren’t good enough to do that. White, Schmidt, Anae and Beck can only teach the players how to play the game and what tactics to use in the game. The players still have to play it. We’ve got a back who may be the best in the country, a quarterback who is terrific at running the ball but not passing it, a young receiving corps that needs to grow up quickly, an offensive line Phil Steele rated the 3rd best in the conference -if they can stay healthy, an all-new and under-sized defensive line, an excellent group of linebackers and defensive backs, a dynamic kick returner, a place-kicker who won the Lou Groza award as a freshmen and wants to have a season like that again and what last year was a semi-comical group of punters, (a disappointment here at ‘punter-U’ – we do it so often, we are usually good at it). As usual, depth will be an issue: Since we joined the ACC in 2013, we are 23-30 going into November and 9-29 in November. The two teams that had winning records and won bowl games were 6-3 so the other seven teams were a dismal 3-26 in the season’s final month. Five of them never won a game.

I think we’ll be better than last year, when we went 5-7, (after being 5-3), but I don’t know if our record will reflect it. Playing our schedule will be like chewing rocks. We’ve got the usual 8 ACC games, (see paragraph #5, above), and it’s our turn to play Notre Dame, who beat our beloved 2018 team 3-36. We also must play Purdue, who went 9-4 last year. The only two opponents we probably won’t break our teeth on are a home game with FCS Wagner, (why is Wagner in FCS? They won the DIII title in 1987!), and Connecticut, who has been drifting aimlessly since the Big East days, (ten straight losing seasons: 31-90, including 1-11 last year). So we have to beat those two teams and find at least four other teams we can beat.

So that’s what Coaches Baber, Anae, Becker, Schmidt and White are working on as we speak. I hope they are successful for themselves, the players, the fans, the donors and the recruits. What I don’t want to do is erase the whole staff and much of the roster with a firing and start all over again with someone else who has to start piling his own bricks. We’ve done too much of that in this century and it hasn’t produced the results we needed.

(I'll post one section a day)
I thought this thread was going to be about the “Situation “
Season 5 Smh GIF by Jersey Shore Family Vacation

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