Disappointed Syracuse still has enough to play for
Following the upset of then-No. 2 Clemson, it was easy to see the remainder of Syracuse's season through rose-colored glasses.
Yes, the Orange still had three difficult road games remaining on schedule. Both home games were against drastically improved football teams. When all's said and done, Syracuse may have been strapped with the hardest schedule in the country.
But the Orange were greatly improved in year two under head coach Dino Babers. The ball moved up and down the field. The defense played with intensity. Syracuse seemed poised to earn a bowl bid for the first time since 2013.
Those dreams were dashed the past two weeks after Syracuse (4-7) surrendered 120 points to Wake Forest and Louisville. The Orange will take a four-game losing streak into Saturday's season finale against Boston College in the Carrier Dome.
When asked if Syracuse has anything left to play for, Babers went sentimental, speaking up for a senior class that will fail to make the postseason.
"When (I think about) what they've gone through from the Scott Shafer to the Dino Babers thing and the transition that they allowed us to implement with them being in the program," Babers said. "They've had some big wins over Virginia Tech and Clemson and they've had some disappointments. Hopefully we can send them out the right way."
The team's miserable 56-10 loss against Louisville, which exceeded four hours due to a weather delay, cemented an 0-5 record on the road. Syracuse is 1-14 in the month of November since 2014.
Some of the Orange's late-season struggles can be explained fair or unfair by the injuries of starting quarterback Eric Dungey. Over three years as starter, Dungey has missed nine full games. Make it 10 if an undisclosed lower body injury keeps Dungey out against the Eagles.
"I would like to see if he could or he couldn't (play)," Babers said. "But I wouldn't bet on it."
In games that Dungey has taken the majority of snaps, Syracuse is slightly below .500 (11-14). Compare that to a ghastly 1-9 record in the game's he's missed, where reserve options like former walk-on Zack Mahoney and redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper have played in Dungey's place.
Against Wake Forest, Mahoney played well enough for Syracuse to take a 38-24 lead into halftime. But the Orange managed just five points in the second half. It took Syracuse until its 14th drive to score a touchdown against Louisville.
"It's extremely hard to lose your starting quarterback in Eric Dungey," Culpepper said. "He's been a great help along the way, but there's only so much you can do when he's not on the field. We miss him."
Of course, it was not the Syracuse offense that gave up a career day to Wake Forest QB John Wolford, or got run over by Heisman-trophy winner Lamar Jackson for the second year in a row.
"I would like to think that (Dungey's injury) did not affect (the defense)," Babers said.
In Monday's press conference, Babers talked about lowering expectations early in his tenure. He awkwardly suggested that the community was immature in its reaction to the Clemson upset. Babers sees the Boston College game as an important chance to continue training "the underbelly" of the roster.
"You have to continue to coach the underbelly," Babers said. "Someday that guy who is second could be first. And in some situations on our football team, the guy who is sitting third can be first. You have to continue to develop them."