On this, the 10-year anniversary of the most unpredictable season in college football history, Dino Babers’ Syracuse Orange scored an upset of defending national champion and No. 2-ranked Clemson. For a program still in the relatively early phases of a complete overhaul, evident in an early-season loss to struggling MTSU, Syracuse’s 27-24 win was very much befitting the aura of a decade ago the 2017 season has adopted.
For Dino Babers, Friday’s win was three decades in the making.
Babers gained his first full-time assistant’s job in 1987, taking over as running backs coach at Eastern Illinois. He then spent the next quarter century traveling the continent as an assistant.
It’s exasperating in retrospect that no program hired Dino Babers in 25 years, before the first to give him his initial full-time assistant’s gig, Eastern Illinois, made him head coach. This season is just his sixth as a head coach, but defeating the defending national champion suggests Babers has Syracuse on track for continued success after his first season with the Orange resulted in his first career losing record.
Babers won conference championships in three of his first seasons; two at Eastern Illinois, one at Bowling Green. The season he didn’t win one at Bowling Green, the Falcons participated in the MAC Championship Game.
The past six years provide plenty of hindsight with which to benefit the evaluation of Babers. However, in his lengthy tenure as an assistant, Dino Babers coordinated the innovative and exciting offense for the best team in Arizona Wildcats history in 1998.
Babers couldn’t have been a viable candidate for the head coaching job at UA in 2001 — but the program’s trajectory had it hired him instead of John Mackovic would almost assuredly be remarkable different.
It’s an error I suggested Arizona brass rectify in 2015 as rumors swirled Rich Rodriguez was entertaining the Virginia Tech job. There was no vacancy at Arizona that offseason, but there was at Syracuse.
What Orange football got hiring Babers: innovation and a willingness to defy conventions. The offensive acumen that maximized the potential of Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois and Matt Johnson at Bowling Green has Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey with more than 2,100 yards on the 2017 season, including some monumental completions on the fearsome Clemson defense.
🚨 TOUCHDOWN ORANGE 🚨
— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) October 14, 2017
Syracuse’s willingness and ability to attack Clemson with aggressive deep balls allowed the Orange to dictate tempo. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who came with Babers from Bowling Green to Syracuse, called frequent blitzes that vexed the Clemson offense.
The Orange never trailed as a result of the strategy. The players executed a strategy mapped out and called to perfection.
Perhaps without 30 years of coaching experience and a quarter century as an assistant, Dino Babers and Syracuse don’t score a landmark win reminiscent of the wild season 10 years past. We can never know, but Friday’s upset was a long time coming for the veteran coach.