Friedlander: Will Syracuse have reason to keep celebrating? We're about to find out
They rushed the field at Syracuse’s JMA Wireless Dome after Saturday’s 24-9 win against NC State.
It wasn’t as big or raucous a celebration as the one that took place at Tennessee later that day.
And the goalposts survived.
But a good time was definitely had by all. Including once-embattled Orange coach Dino Babers.
“One of my fondest moments is when I was working at Baylor and the night that Robert Griffin III won the Heisman versus Oklahoma. Everybody just rushed the field with the win,” Babers said at his postgame press conference. “As an assistant coach, I just went to the side as they jumped over the rail. I just sat on the rail and watched all that mayhem happen out there in the middle of the football field.
“It’s a memory that’s burned inside my mind that I’ll never forget. I just wanted to have one of those memories with the Orange behind it. It’s really exciting.”
Exciting, yes. But warranted?
It’s not as if Babers’ team won a championship, upset a top-5 opponent or even knocked off a long-time rival.
While the win improved 14th-ranked Syracuse to a surprising 6-0 and clinched bowl eligibility for the first time in 4 years, it came at the expense of a wounded Wolfpack team that had trouble getting 1st downs, let alone touchdowns without starting quarterback Devin Leary.
Maybe it’s just been so long since the Orange and their fans have had a chance to celebrate, this seemed as good a time as any to let loose.
"We're a family. We're a familia. We're an Ohana." pic.twitter.com/DDOjKCM6oE
— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) October 16, 2022
This is college, after all. And at college, there’s never a bad time for a party.
In at least one respect, though, the timing of the postgame reaction seems appropriate. With the win, the fun part of Syracuse’s schedule has officially come to an end. The rest is going to be a grind from here on out.
Starting with Saturday’s showdown for the ACC Atlantic lead at No. 5 Clemson, the Orange can look forward to running a gauntlet that also includes dates against Notre Dame, defending league champion Pittsburgh, improved Florida State and defending division champion Wake Forest before closing out at Boston College.
Babers and his players have their work cut out for there to be any more celebrations under the dome this season. Despite their spotless record and national ranking, we still don’t have a full grasp of just how good this Orange team is.
Their 6 opponents to date – Louisville, UConn, Purdue, Virginia, Wagner and NC State – have a combined record of 18-22. The 3 ACC teams they’ve faced are 2-6 in conference games.
And it’s not as if they’ve been winning in dominant fashion.
Even Saturday, they let NC State hang around until late in the 4th quarter by squandering scoring chances and turning the ball over twice until finally putting the game away with a touchdown against a spent Wolfpack defense.
But there’s an “it” factor about this Syracuse team that breeds optimism moving forward regardless of the schedule.
It has a diverse offense that can do damage both on the ground and through the air. Running back Sean Tucker is the school’s all-time leading rusher and dual-threat transfer quarterback Garrett Shrader has thrived with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Robert Anae and the emergence of go-to receiver Oronde Gadsden II.
Defensively, the Orange have allowed the fewest points and yards in the ACC, and have held half of their opponents to 1 touchdown or fewer.
They’ve also shown an ability to bounce back from adversity and win from behind in the final minute, as they did against both Purdue and UVA.
Considering where it started – with a last-place prediction in the Atlantic and speculation or not just if, but when Babers would be fired – Syracuse has already outkicked its coverage this season.
This is only the 3rd time since 1935 and the 1st time since 1987 that a Syracuse football team has started a season with at least 6 straight victories.
Even though it’s only halftime, that is an accomplishment.
“This is special,” Babers said Saturday. “Sometimes you need to just stop and smell the roses. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to win another game. But if you go back and find out how many teams have gone 6-0, regardless of the opponents, it’s not normal. It’s way, way above average.”
There’s a difference, however, between above-average and special, just as there’s a difference between the College Football Playoff and the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl.
Since they don’t hand out trophies at the midway point, the book is still out as to which way Syracuse’s 2022 season will eventually turn. We’ll get a hint of that direction on Saturday at Clemson.
It will be the first meeting between teams with at least 6 wins and no losses in the 81-year history of the Tigers’ Memorial Stadium, where it’s tradition for fans to come out of the stands and “meet at the paw” to sing their school’s alma mater after every game.
So win or lose, Babers will get to see another celebration on the field among people wearing orange.
Only time will tell how excited he’ll be about it.