SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Dino Babers is no longer the rookie coach at Syracuse, and that’s a good thing as the Orange prepare to start the second year of his tenure.
“The team has a much better feel for the coaches, a much better feel for the scheme,” Babers said. “They shouldn’t be as anxious. I think that should bring them a little bit of calmness, some peace, and hopefully settle them down.”
The Orange finished 4-8 in Babers’ first season and open 2017 at home on Friday night against FCS foe Central Connecticut State. It’s the first meeting between the teams, adding an element of the unknown. The Blue Devils were 2-9 last season and are picked to finish fourth in the Northeast Conference.
“This is a team that, on paper, some people may think we should have an easy time with,” Babers said. “But as a football coach and as football players we don’t look at it like that. They have a very veteran football team coming back. This is a very dangerous situation for us. They have a chance just like we have a chance.”
Junior quarterback Eric Dungey is the key to Syracuse’s uptempo offense. He started nine games as a sophomore and passed for 2,679 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also rushed for 293 yards (on 125 attempts) and six TDs before suffering a season-ending injury after an early hit to the head and shoulder area at Clemson, the ninth game of the season. Dungey didn’t take another snap the remainder of the year.
The Orange closed the season with four straight losses, a big letdown in the aftermath of a signature victory — a 31-17 upset of 17th-ranked Virginia Tech — that had brought some welcome national attention.
Dungey, who also missed four games as a freshman after suffering a concussion, realizes this can be a make-or-break year for him.
“It’s incredibly important (to stay healthy),” he said. “Obviously, you want to play every game.”
Babers says there will be no wavering on offense, no matter what.
“We’re going to call our game. We’re going to play to win and, hopefully, things will work out,” Babers said. “He (Dungey) is taught to protect himself. Now he needs to go out and play, and good things need to happen.”
Despite Dungey’s injury, the Orange still finished 11th nationally and second in the ACC in passing at 321.3 yards a game.
Other things to know when Syracuse hosts Central Connecticut State on Friday night:
Syracuse returns 20 starters from last year’s team, the top figure in the nation among FBS teams, and CCSU has 18 back. Among the returning Blue Devils is junior QB Jacob Dolegala (2,934 yards and 15 TDs passing with nine interceptions).
“It’s good to have that guy back,” CCSU coach Pete Rossomando said. “We’ve been breaking in, it seems, a new quarterback every year. This year we’ve got a guy that started every game for us. He’s a great leader.”
So, too, are wideout Joey Fields (46 catches for 732 yards and six scores), and senior linebacker Randall Laguerre (116 tackles).
The Syracuse defense suffered mightily at times last year, concluding the season by allowing 76 points at Pittsburgh in the highest-scoring regulation game in FBS history. Standout Orange free safety Antwan Cordy watched that game while nursing a fractured forearm that kept him out of 10 games, but he’s healthy again and, along with senior LBs Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett, has helped solidify a defense that sparkled in preseason camp.
“I think we’re much improved (on defense),” Babers said. “Now they have to get on the field and prove it. They have to be able to back up some of the thoughts I have.”
Cole Murphy starts his fourth season as the first-string kicker for the Orange despite a lackluster junior year (10 for 18). At least he’ll be kicking in the Carrier Dome, where he’s 28 of 34.
Syracuse returns almost 95 percent of its total offensive yardage and the bodies integral to its success, including all five starters on the offensive line. Junior tackle Cody Conway and redshirt senior right tackle Jamar McGloster are the anchors. In eight starts last year, Conway was in for 699 snaps and registered 20 knockdown blocks.
WELCOME TO THE DOME
This marks the fourth straight year Syracuse will open a season against an FCS foe. The Orange are 15-0 in the Carrier Dome against teams from college football’s second level.