Dino Babers era at Syracuse begins Friday against Colgate
The Dino Babers era at Syracuse begins Friday night in the Carrier Dome, and he faces an imposing first season with the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame on the schedule.
First up, though, is upstate New York foe Colgate in the season opener, a stiff test for the Orange's new football coach, and he knows it. Syracuse was 4-8 last season under Scott Shafer.
''Playing an FCS opponent is one thing,'' Babers said. ''Playing an FCS opponent ranked in the top 20 at that level, that's something totally different.''
The Raiders, the preseason pick to win the Patriot League for the second straight year, may play at Division I's second tier, but they're a veteran team, are ranked, and coming off a 9-5 season that included two NCAA playoff victories and a berth in the FCS quarterfinals.
''Their entire defensive line is all-conference. Their middle linebacker is a preseason defensive player of the year, and you put that front seven along with the back end, and you've got a defense that can make my life miserable about halfway through Friday night. It's going to be a football game.''
In 2010, the last time the teams met, Colgate's Nate Eachus gained 147 yards on 35 carries and scored once as the Raiders held the ball for nearly 44 minutes overall and gained 376 yards. Those Raiders were poised to go into the locker room at halftime trailing only 7-0 before a special teams mistake gave the Orange a chance for a quick score and they capitalized.
Syracuse ended up winning 42-7, taking advantage of Colgate's lack of discipline. The Raiders were called for seven penalties for 60 yards in the opening half, and that helped seal their fate.
''Hopefully, we'll be able to hang in there a little bit longer, finish those drives, make some more stops,'' second-year Colgate coach Dan Hunt said. ''If we can keep it within a score or two into the fourth quarter, that's a situation we've been in quite a bit. Hopefully, our experience from last year will kick in a little bit.''
While Babers might know what to expect from Colgate, Hunt and his staff know it's a guessing game on their end. Babers is tweaking the up-tempo offense he brought with him from Bowling Green via Eastern Illinois and Baylor, so it remains a work in progress.
''We have no idea,'' Hunt said. ''Everything he's done for two years at Bowling Green that we've been looking at - is it the same as what we're going to see? We're just going to have to figure that out as we're going.''
Other things to know when Syracuse hosts Colgate in the Orange's first game under Babers:
DUNGEY'S THE MAN
Syracuse QB Eric Dungey, who threw for 1,298 yards in 2015, has put on 15 pounds of muscle as he gets set for his sophomore season. He suffered at least one concussion last season and missed four games after taking over as the starter in the opener. Babers wants his quarterbacks to stay in the pocket and Dungey, who likes to run, is ready to oblige.
''I was too small last year,'' Dungey said. ''In high school I was able to do that (hurdle players), break tackles, run over guys. But everyone's a lot bigger here, so you just have to be smart, be smart with your body.''
Colgate holds a 31-30-5 series advantage over Syracuse, but the Orange have won the last 15. This is Colgate's fourth straight road season opener against a BCS opponent, and no success so far. The Raiders have been outscored 115-33 in losses to Air Force, Ball State and Navy in the past three.
Colgate QB Jake Melville compiled 3,625 yards of total offense last season (2,552 yards passing and 1,073 rushing) in guiding an offense that suffered only two interceptions to lead the nation. Tailback James Holland led the Raiders and finished seventh nationally with 16 touchdowns and 96 points.
Last season, Colgate led the Patriot League in fewest penalties per game (4.8) and was among the top 10 nationally in both fewest sacks allowed and fewest tackles-for-loss allowed.
Colgate has to look back only to 2014 for inspiration against Syracuse. The Orange were just plain lucky to beat Villanova, also of the FCS, 27-26 in double overtime. It took a trick play - a pass by punter Riley Dixon - to produce the winning touchdown and a failed gamble by the Wildcats on a two-point conversion attempt to finally get the job done.