BTP: Syracuse is sitting at 5-2 with a bowl bid in line all but a certainty. How do fans feel about the state of the program, and in particular coach Babers?
JC: Neither myself nor any Syracuse fan is considering a bowl bid “all but a certainty” if they’ve been around the program very long. I think we get at least six wins this year, but I was also around for 2011, when a 5-2 Syracuse team destroyed a ranked West Virginia team on national TV, only to lose out.
That said, those vibes are potentially in the past for this program under Dino Babers. Progress may not be as quick as we wanted on the rebuild, but a realistic Orange fan is pretty happy with where we’re at so far. The talent level and depth have both been upgraded. SU is a more watchable team and a more competitive one as well, than it ever really was under Scott Shafer. You can see the young players on this roster who are poised to shape future success. It’s great to feel like we’re finally, honestly getting past the program cratering under Greg Robinson.
Considering all of that, Syracuse fans are largely a fan of Babers and what he’s brought to the table. There will always be questions here and there (recent play-calling has certainly left a few), and some would like to see recruiting take a bigger leap forward. But overall, he’s been an excellent hire who’s upgraded what he inherited.
BTP: If you could realign the conference divisions, how would you change things up?
JC: I’ve written on this topic pretty often, and would much prefer something more innovative like the division-less three permanent rivals setup or pods, over the standard two-division thing. However, if we’re stuck with two divisions, then give me the altered North/South arrangement that largely ends up split by Big East/ACC lines since you have to put Miami in the North to give equal exposure to Florida recruiting.
What that would look like:
North: Boston College, Louisville, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech
South: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, Wake Forest
It’s not perfect by any means, but I think this has the best chance of all realignment possibilities to create some sort of sensible geographic grouping, protect natural rivalries and allow for a rotating cast of characters to compete for division championships. For the short list of crossover matchups that concern people, protect a couple the way the Pac-12 and Big Ten do. In this case, that would be UNC-UVA and FSU-Miami. If you want to go further than that (Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech?) feel free. But you don’t want to force it the way some of the current crossovers have.
BTP: Tommy DeVito came in against UNC and helped Cuse get a win in double OT. Does he get the start Saturday night?
JC: Dino Babers isn’t going to spill the beans prior to kickoff, I can guarantee that. But I wouldn’t doubt it if Eric Dungey remained the starter, with a short leash attached. Dungey can be a dynamic playmaker on the ground, as you know, but his throwing’s been a bit off the mark for the past few weeks. When DeVito came in against UNC, he quickly had the Orange offense moving via the downfield passing game -- something that hasn’t happened well at all this season with Dungey at QB.
Neither player starting would surprise me. We’ll see if Dino’s interested in a two-QB system, but I doubt it and think he makes a definitive call on who gets the ball. As much as I’m a fan of all that Dungey’s done at Syracuse, I’m in favor of DeVito starting on Saturday.
BTP: Where do you see a weakness on the Pack that Syracuse can exploit?
JC: The biggest weakness for NC State seems to be special teams play, and that’s actually where Syracuse has excelled the most (we’re ranked first overall according to Bill Connelly’s numbers, and have been top-five in terms of field position all season). Make the sort of gaffes that occurred in the Boston College game, and the Orange are going to take full advantage. Unlike previous Syracuse teams under Babers, this has been an opportunistic and aggressive group in terms of turnovers, and they’ve feasted on poor special teams play.
Something that’s a little more bankable than special teams (which can trend random): Pace. NC State doesn’t use a whole lot of it and Syracuse is happy to speed things up as much as possible. If SU gets the Pack playing at their speed, that could take them out of their comfort zone.
BTP: Who on the Pack worries you the most on offense? How about on defense?
JC: Offensively, it’s Ryan Finley. Syracuse’s run defense has been shoddy for much of the year, but while they were able to address that somewhat against North Carolina last week (at least for the first three quarters), it allowed a pedestrian passer like Nathan Elliott to have a career day with well over 300 yards passing. Finley’s obviously a much better and more accurate player than that. If we’re letting off the blitz to stop the run, he’ll have time and throwing lanes to utilize.
Over on the defense, linebacker Germaine Pratt has the most potential for disruption, no matter who’s under center for Syracuse. If it’s Dungey, Pratt can serve as an effective spy to neutralize his mobile abilities and force him to try to make more plays with his arm. With DeVito back there, it’s a dangerous potential blitzer and someone who can stop him from attacking the middle of the field with mid-range throws. Pratt is likely to get in on the action quite a bit on Saturday night.
BTP: Any major injury concerns?
JC: (Knock on wood) We’ve remained fairly healthy this season, with some minor bumps and bruises for our primary contributors. The secondary is one place where we could have some question marks, however, as starters Antwan Cordy, Chris Fredrick and Scoop Bradshaw have all missed time in recent games with injuries of some sort. Without injury reports, we won’t know their status prior to the game. But if they appear hobbled at all early, I’m sure State will be attacking through the air.
BTP: Lets get a prediction: who leaves the Carrier Dome with a win?
JC: I’m really tempted to pick Syracuse here because I do think the tempo is a big advantage, but I’m just a little too wary about the Orange defense’s ability to stop Finley’s passing. Even if they manage to limit the damage through the air, I’d assume that comes at the risk of getting gashed by the run game.
This will be a close game, I think, and Syracuse will put up points regardless of who starts at QB. Just think NC State puts up a few more late as the SU defense wears down. Final score: NC State 38, Syracuse 34.