It will be the first time new coach Dino Babers watches him play.
Same goes for every other player taking the field. Rather than watch old game tape from the last several seasons, Babers opts to judge each player on what they do on the practice field, how they grasp his coaching and his scheme.
But shunning the film does not mean his players are strangers to him. Babers has worked to get to know his team beyond the Xs and Os, prioritizing weekly team meetings as a way to help everybody get adjusted to all the changes around them.
“We have weekly meetings and we call them ‘The State of the Union' since we are so close to DC,” Babers said in a recent conversation with ESPN.com. “I don’t stand in front of them and lecture them. They get to ask questions to me about the program, questions about the rules, questions about the offense, the defense, the kicking game, so they can settle their mind so they can put their best foot forward in the spring.
“So many times when you come in December, it’s all about your recruiting class, your recruiting class and you don’t get to spend any time in front of the core of your football team, which are the 65 guys who already decided they’re coming to Syracuse. It’s important to give that team the respect they’re due. It’s also the reason why I try to keep a clean slate.”
What has he learned about his players over the last three months?
“They’re hungry,” Babers said. “They want to win. They feel that what we’re bringing in may give them an edge. It doesn’t guarantee we’re going to win. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win tomorrow; it doesn’t mean we’re going to win today but I think they understand that it’s different, and that different might be good.”
So does that mean they have embraced different?
“I believe they have, but ask me after three or four days of spring ball,” Babers says with a laugh.
Syracuse has won seven games over the last two years, playing in the tough Atlantic Division. With Clemson and Florida State appearing to be playoff contenders in 2016, and Louisville poised to become a Top 25 team again, Babers faces a situation he never had in his previous stops as a head coach.
But he believes in his offensive system, which he learned under Art Briles at Baylor and installed at both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green to great success. He believes in what his defensive coaches do, too. That is a big reason he brought three of six of his Bowling Green assistants with him.
“If you want to start a job fast, you have to try to keep the continuity there,” Babers said. “That’s the only way you have a chance to jump-start it. If you’re trying to teach new coaches the system and you’re trying to get coaches to figure out what the head coach or the defensive coordinator’s all about, that takes time and while the coaches are trying to figure themselves out, the players don’t have anywhere to go. They don’t have any direction.”
That is not an issue now, though players have no idea what to expect out of practice when it begins. Syracuse is starting first among all ACC schools this spring. Babers did the same in Year 1 at his previous head coaching stops to get everything going much faster.
“The longer we wait in spring, the longer they’re doing it somebody else’s way and we want them to do it our way and they don’t know how, and it’s not their fault,” Babers said. “The earlier we start, the sooner they get to forget the old way and start thinking about the new way.”
And the sooner Babers gets to evaluate his players.