Riding the Wave (Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Syracuse)

Robert Cole/ALOST


– by Mandi Shovlin
A Lot of Sports Talk contributor

NEW YORK — Among the numerous experiences the Syracuse University football team got to take a part in upon touchdown down in the Big Apple to cap off its 2022 season, the team’s visit to Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes perform afforded both players and coaching staff an opportunity to take away a life-long lesson from the world-famous kickline ensemble, according to head coach Dino Babers as he addressed the media during Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl press conference.

“[Our team] stayed there all the way until the end, and they were amazed about their flexibility,” Babers said. “[Our staff] promised me that our guys would work on theirs to be as flexible as some of those dancers were.”

Flexibility is something the Syracuse team has needed an extra serving of this post-season, with a series of defections from the team after the end of the regular season threatening to turn into a kick in the teeth.

Soon after the Orange ended their season with a come-from-behind victory at Boston College to clinch a winning season at 7-5, most of the news coming out from the Salt City focused on who would not be a part of the team as Syracuse prepares to play Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday afternoon.

Defensive coordinator Tony White departed to join Matt Ruhle’s new armory at Nebraska in the same capacity, and offensive coordinator Robert Anae soon followed White out of the 315 as he took his abilities to fellow ACC opponent NC State to be the Wolfpack’s new OC.

As for the on-field talent, at least nine Syracuse players have entered the transfer portal soon after the season finale, with wide receivers Courtney Jackson, Dom Foster and Anthony Queeley, along with defensive backs Duce Chestnut and Ja’Had Carter being the most notable losses. Adding salt to the wound is Syracuse’s biggest offensive threat, two-time 1,000-yard rusher and 2021 AP Second Team All-American Sean Tucker, decided to forgo his bowl game eligibility and declared for the 2023 NFL Draft. Accompanying him in jumping pro are cornerback Garrett Williams, left tackle Matthew Bergeron and fullback Chris Elmore.

Nonetheless, Babers is eager to watch his young players excel and take control behind the wheel.

“They’re going to make some mistakes, but if they make them full speed and as the game goes on, if they progress and get better, then that’s going to be exciting for our future,” Babers said. “And I can’t wait to see how some of those young people do.”

Same goes for the new coordinators, with both Beck and Monroe in their first games at their new positions.

“You can help a lot, or you can help a little and let them try to figure some things out on their own,” Babers said about his new coordinators settling in to their new roles. “But everybody has to have their first opportunity, and then you either get better or worse from there. It’s been fun times watching them, and I’m sure they’re excited about their times.”

Syracuse started this season a blistering 6-0, catching nationwide attention for that best start to a season since the undefeated 1987 team finished its campaign as the No. 2 team in the country. Even their first loss of the season, a 27-21 defeat at No. 5 Clemson in which Syracuse entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead, had Orange fans dreaming of a possible spot in a New Year’s Day bowl. But injuries and a considerably difficult regular season schedule caught up to Syracuse, as a season where they reached as high as No. 14 in the polls ended with losses in five of their last six.

Going into Thursday’s tilt with the Golden Gophers allows the Orange the opportunity to record its first eight-win season since 2018, and a winning start to many of the new faces that will be on display inside Yankee Stadium.

“To have an opportunity to come out here and to hang out since Christmas and then play a fine, fine, fine football team like Minnesota…we’ll do our best to go out there and put our best foot forward,” Babers said. “This has been a fantastic experience.”

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