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Syracuse Football 2016 Team Preview: Orange May Surprise

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Syracuse attempts to be one of 3 teams to climb out of the ACC Atlantic basement.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Dino Babers is a breath of fresh air inside the Carrier Dome but is also tasked with rebuilding a down program from inside the far more difficult ACC Atlantic division.

2015 Record: 4-8

F/+ Rank: 85

S&P Rank: 71

FEI Rank: 90

Wins: Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, Boston College

Losses: No. 16 LSU, South Florida, Virginia, Pittsburgh, No. 14 Florida State, Louisville, No. 2 Clemson, NC State

*****

Dino Babers is next in the long line of coaches to move from the MAC to a Power 5 conference. Will he be a success story or is he the next Darrell Hazell?

Babers' resume is solid. He's packed in a lot of quality assistant coaching gigs at the highest college football levels. However, already in his mid-50's he's only entering his 5th season as a head coach and that lack of experience leaves some questions.

Babers performed well at both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. While at the first stop he went 14-1 in conference play with two conference titles. His final season was an impressive 12-2 record, although they lost in the playoff quarterfinals.

At BSGU, his two years totaled a record of 18-9 culminating with a 10-3 record this past fall.

The skeptic would say he's a good coach but he also walked into really good situations at both schools. For example, the coach previous to Babers at Bowling Green was Dave Clawson and he also went 18-9 over his final two seasons with the Falcons.

Clawson and Babers are now in the same division within the ACC and the latter better hope his start at Syracuse is better than Clawson's 6-18 beginning with the Demon Deacons.

Low Moment

The Syracuse season was pretty steady, so to speak. They beat the two weaker ACC teams and nothing on their 2015 resume really jumps out as heinously bad.

The one exception might be their loss to Virginia which came in three overtimes. True, even that loss was on the road--and even through the Cavaliers finished with an identical 4-8 record--this victory gave them one more league win than Syracuse.

The Orange only ran 65 plays in this loss which is just dreadful for a game that went into three overtimes. If there ever was an indication that a new coaching staff needed to come in and overhaul the offense this was the game.

High Moment

Syracuse acquitted itself pretty well against the eventual national championship runner-up in Clemson. The Orange were forced to start Mahoney at quarterback again, and despite falling behind 14-0 in under 2 minutes of play, they rallied back and trailed just 31-24 at one point in the second half.

Syracuse also totaled 242 rushing yards which was pretty damn impressive against the Clemson defense. Ultimately, the Orange lost 37-27 but that was largely due to Deshaun Watson putting up 360 passing yards and 105 rushing yards. It happens sometimes.

2016 Schedule

Home: Colgate, Louisville, South Florida, Virginia Tech, NC State, Florida State

Away: UConn, Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson, Pittsburgh

Neutral: Notre Dame

This looks like a very challenging schedule for Syracuse. You'd hope they can continue to beat Wake Forest and Boston College but then again those programs also have nowhere to go but up after last year. Beyond that where are they picking up more FBS wins?

I look at the group of Louisville, USF, Virginia Tech, NC State, UConn, and Pittsburgh. Can they pluck a few victories out of that group to become bowl eligible? While it's fair to assume Syracuse can be on the rise under Babers so too are a lot of those teams, especially the first three. Can the Orange outpace those opponents' growth?

S&P Projected Rank: 44

This feels a bit high but Syracuse does have a lot of starters coming back which is a big part of the equation. Still, a jump of 27 spots up the S&P rankings would surprise me.

For example, the 44th team last was Houston with a 13-1 record. The teams on either side of them were App State (11-2) and San Diego State (11-3). When you look at the Power 5 teams in that area you're talking about Pittsburgh (8-5) and Iowa (11-2).

I know records don't equal S&P but I do this to give a sense of how much better a 4-8 team would likely have to perform to move inside the Top 50 following such a poor season the previous fall. It could happen as Minnesota (37th ranked last year with 7 losses) shows but I'm not sure Syracuse has proven that either side of the ball is in position to take a major step forward to warrant this high of a projected ranking.

Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-14.5)

Dino Babers was a very good hire for Syracuse. It's just my skepticism surrounding him has to do with a reaction to what I perceive as a little too positive of comments from the media on Babers' chances and the fact that Syracuse is a really tough rebuild job.

This is a program with a 5-year national recruiting average of 61.4 which is towards the bottom of all the Power 5 programs. Additionally, over the last 5 cycles the Orange have never been better than 10th in recruiting within the ACC. That's a rather large uphill climb for any coach.

I may be biased because I'm exposed to a little more Syracuse talk as a native of New York State but I'm not sure enough people realize how hard is to win with the Orange. Babers could turn out to be a tremendous coach but it'll take just that for a team to out-perform their recruiting rankings to such a high degree and begin winning 8 or 9 games on a consistent basis.

Factor in the tough ACC Atlantic and I'd sell any stock on Syracuse if you think they are finishing 44th in S&P in Dino Babers' first year. They do have a lot of starters back and some nice pieces to work with yet I believe the progress is going to be much slower than that.