A season ago, Syracuse stunned No. 2 Clemson 27-24 ... and then promptly lost every game after to finish 4-8. This year, the Orange came oh-so-close to beating No. 3 Clemson before falling just short 27-23 ... and then won five of its next seven games. With a 34-18 win over No. 16 West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl, Syracuse can enjoy its first 10-win season since 2001. And in retrospect, hiring coach Dino Babers has proven to be one of the best moves in college football over the past three years.
Consider, for a moment, what Babers has accomplished not just with the Orange but overall. In five seasons with Syracuse and Bowling Green, he's notched two 10-win seasons and has a winning record of 35-28. That doesn't include a pair of winning seasons at Eastern Illinois, which included a 12-2 record in 2013 and a pair of Division I playoff appearances.
With Syracuse specifically, the last time the program had a winning record was 2013. This has been a sub-.500 program since Paul Pasqualoni -- the last coach to have any sustained success -- was fired. In three seasons at a place that has been proven to be hard to win at, Babers has turned Cuse into legitimate ACC Atlantic contenders (and the Orange were picked last in the preseason media poll).
Of course, it helps to have a quarterback, and Eric Dungey has been a rock for this team. You have to take the good with the bad with Dungey, but he's made plenty more good plays than bad. With Friday night's 303-yard performance, Dungey moved into first place all time on the program's passing list, surpassing Ryan Nassib's old record of 9,190 yards. Perhaps his most impressive 42 yards on the night came on this scramble and dump-off to Moe Neal that almost resulted in a touchdown. Say this for Dungey: when the play doesn't seem there, he usually finds a way to make something happen.
The victory over an old Big East rival is a culmination in what has been a fascinating ascension for Syracuse under Babers. Though Dungey is gone in 2019, Tommy DeVito looks like more than a capable successor. And if Babers can keep things rolling and get Syracuse back to a bowl game next season, he will establish himself as not just one of the best coaches in the ACC, but in all of college football. Heck, he's practically there now.