Dino Babers leads his Syracuse Orangemen into Kalamazoo for an early out of conference matchup against the MAC. It’s a big year for Babers, as he needs to produce progress after he takes the reigns as the head coach in his third-year. Babers got the job because of the success he previously had in the MAC at Bowling Green. He had that offense zipping with his hurry-up approach that put Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.
They were a tough offense to defend and he’s been trying to duplicate the same thing in the ACC. Babers has had to deal with much better teams in the ACC, he found that out quickly in his first season as the bench boss. Syracuse went 4-8 in 2017 which was equal to Syracuse’s mark in 2016. The Orangemen had a marquee victory in 2016, though, as they knocked off the 17th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. They also defeated Clemson last season at the Carrier Dome, the then 2nd ranked Clemson Tigers. So, they’ve done a nice job taking advantage of teams that take them lightly under the Dome at home.
Syracuse has to see a bowl game this season or Babers is likely going to be under pressure. Two years is understandable, but another 4-win season isn’t going to cut it for the Orangemen. He can only knock off good teams playing on a letdown week for so long. One marquee victory a year is not good enough. Part of the issue has been keeping quarterback Eric Dungey healthy. A good quarterback that can run this up-tempo offense is key. He is eyeing a strong season to impress the pro scouts for next season.
Second-year head coach, Tim Lester, looked adequate on the sidelines in his rookie season as a head coach, but it was a definite downgrade from PJ Fleck. Fleck took a job in the Big Ten with Minnesota, so it left Western Michigan looking for a replacement. Western Michigan were coming off an undefeated regular season.
Their only loss in 2016 was a loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. It wasn’t a bad loss either, they fought in a 24-16 loss against the Badgers. So, Lester wasn’t going into a bad program, but there were some pieces to replace. Both of these coaches are looking for a jump forward in 2018. We’ll see who gets a win right out of the gate in Week 1. Head below for our free Syracuse vs. Western Michigan on Friday night in Kalamazoo.
Syracuse Orangemen vs. Western Michigan Broncos Betting Odds:
vs. Western Michigan +4.5(-105)
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Syracuse vs. Western Michigan Pick:
There have been flashes of what the Syracuse offense can do, but it’s been happening too sporadically. If Dungey can finally complete an entire season and stay upright, we are going to see it working more effectively consistently. They must also improve their running game which should happen behind two experienced running backs. Syracuse returns junior Moe Neal and senior Dontae Strickland. Strickland provides an option in the passing game as well.
The main target for Dungey in this one is going to be tight end Ravian Pierce. He’s looked impressive in camp and figures to play a big role in just his second-year in college. Despite Dungey failing to stay on the field the whole season, the Syracuse offense finished 23rd with 456 yards per game. They had problems turning drives into touchdowns, but I think that changes with a weapon like Pierce in the red zone.
The Broncos averaged 390 yards per game in 2017. They didn’t have much of a quarterback halfway through the season because of Joe Wassink breaking his collarbone. The offense consisted of Jarvion Franklin pounding the rock carry after carry. Without a reliable passer, there wasn’t much to compliment Franklin and the ground game in the second-half of the season.
Franklin is with the Steelers in the NFL now, so that’s a huge void that Western Michigan is going to need to replace. Broncos’ quarterback Joe Wassink is back in 2018, who they will need healthy and on the field. Before going down, Wassink threw for 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Like Syracuse, Western Michigan can move the ball effectively when their quarterback is in the starting lineup.
I expect Wassink to come flying out of the gates attacking the Syracuse defense. Western Michigan finished 53rd defensively in 2017 with 379 yards per game. They are going to have issues along the defensive line this season. The Broncos have had to replace virtually everyone. They return just five starters to the defensive unit, so I think early on this season, Lester is going to be trying to figure out who the true starters are. College teams don’t have the luxury of a preseason schedule. Syracuse couldn’t project their quarterback last season, but they will likely look good against this line in Kalamazoo. Look for Neal and Strickland to have strong games on the ground as well. Both of these teams should get their points, which is probably going to be a better game than anticipated from most people.