Walking up to the Carrier Dome this weekend, something felt different. There was the usual scattering of drunk people. The dudes yelling at people saying I would go to hell if I didn’t turn my life around. The Abe Lincoln statue with the Bud Light can in his hand. But it felt weird. We walked up to the Dome with a sense of hope. No matter the Florida State team, they should never be taken for granted. Even with Willie Taggart not being able to figure anything out so far at FSU, these are still 5-star recruits across the board. But Saturday afternoon, something new was in the air. I didn’t walk up the hill thinking about how we were about to get the crap kicked out of us. For once in a Syracuse football game, I knew we had a shot. And what happened inside those walls? 37,000 people filled the Dome. It was almost as electric as Cuse knocking off #2 Clemson last season on a Friday night. It was a sleepy noon kickoff on ESPN, but it was ROCKIN inside the Carrier Dome. Florida State never had a chance. The Orange dominated every aspect of the game. 441 yards to FSU’s 240. 25 first downs to 11. 36:53 to 23:07 in time of possession. 222 rushing yards to 62. 8-20 on third down compared to 1-14. Oh, and where the numbers really matter? On the big board? 30-7 Syracuse. Final score. Even without Eric Dungey in the second half, Freshman Tommy DeVito went 11-16 with 144 yards and a touchdown.
So what’s the bigger picture? Cuse football is 3-0 for the first time since 1991. They received 11 AP Top 25 votes, having not been ranked since 2001. This team is legit and could be scary in the ACC Atlantic in a year where Clemson seems to be the only guarantee. ESPN now projects Syracuse at 8-4, a much bigger jump than the 3 to 4 preseason projected wins. The only games they aren’t giving the Orange a legit shot in is on the road against Clemson and Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium. NC State and Boston College will also present challenges. But what Dino Babers has done in his short stint at Syracuse has been huge for Upstate New York. We’re used to being a powerhouse in college basketball. But football? This is new. Babers said he wanted to establish a culture of winning and he has done just that. The difference in this year’s team from last year is obvious. The offensive line can block enough so Eric Dungey isn’t running for his life every play. They can run the ball for the first time in what seems like forever. Their defense has forced more turnovers through three games than they did all of last year.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. This is the same team that went 4-8 last season and did not win a single game after their stunning upset of #2 Clemson. This weekend against UConn will be a test on several levels. If Syracuse is a legit Top 25 team, they should handle the Huskies easily. There should be no hangover game after a big win. Crowd size will be another determining factor. The Carrier Dome is not known to be filled for games like UConn. There is a long road ahead for Dino Babers and the Orange, but the culture change in Upstate New York is becoming apparent. Syracuse University is no longer just a basketball school.