Coming off the final bye week of the 2020 season, Syracuse football coach Dino Babers fielded more questions about basketball coach Jim Boeheim than his own team in the early going of his traditional Monday morning press conference. Boeheim revealed Sunday night that he'd tested positive for COVID-19, and with his 76th birthday arriving on Tuesday, there is cause for concern.
But, Babers sounds anything but worried.
"That guy's in better shape than a lot of people have any clue," said the 59-year old Babers. "When he says that he's at home resting, and he's gonna 'whoop tail' and be back here in a little bit, there's no doubt in my mind that's exactly what's going to happen. I'm not going to doubt it."
While SU has paused all basketball-related activities because of Boeheim's and another member of the program's positive results, the football team is going full steam ahead. Babers says 160 players and staff were tested in the last day or two, and all came back negative. He claims his program has been "good for a real, real long time" when it comes to the coronavirus, calling the basketball team's issues "unfortunate".
"I consider it a 'happening'," Babers said. "We're part of the community, we're part of society. No matter how sharp or how tight we want to keep things, every once in awhile, a hiccup does happen."
The football team's next opponent, Louisville, has had a few hiccups of its own. The Cardinals were missing 9 players because of COVID-19 issues in an Oct. 31 loss to Virginia Tech, and the following week had to postpone their game against Virginia with 15 players out along with 7 staffers.
Syracuse is scheduled to visit Louisville this Friday night, and Babers was asked Monday if his awareness has been heightened by the apparent uptick both near and far.
"My players would probably say that I've perked up their ears too much since they got back on campus," said Babers. "They've heard from me during the bye week that the bye weeks are when, for most teams, something happens, something goes down, and it normally comes back to cost them when they come back in their routine. We've been in their ears that, this is the time that you have to do your due diligence, and cross your T's and dot your I's, and hopefully it works out. We've passed our first round of tests, and we've got two more rounds of tests to go before we get to game day."
Assuming the Orange stay virus-free, there are just three game days left in a season Babers labels "different". He claims he's only been part of one team that's only won one game in a season, and he's hoping to avoid a similar fate. With matchups against Louisville, N.C. State, and No. 2 Notre Dame left on the schedule, Babers knows getting win number two won't be easy.
But, that doesn't mean he's not going to try, and his team won't benefit from doing so.
"I've got three opportunities against teams where we will not be favored, I'm really sure about that," he said. "It's very, very difficult to go through seasons like this, but this is where you start to grow. As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another, and you really find out what you're made of during the tough times. We'll see how the chips fall, maybe we can pull one out here down the stretch."