A couple weeks ago, I wrote a brief column citing one of the issues preventing the Syracuse football team from getting over the hump is that they have lacked enough pure talent to be a nationally competitive program for a long time.
Some subsequent discussion with the website staff about the talent level at SU eventually led to an interesting thought. With last year’s national champions, the #2 Clemson Tigers, coming to town Friday night, could a team made from the best of the last ten Syracuse rosters would beat Dabo Swinney’s squad?
Head coach – Dino Babers
He’ll already be in town and the pre-game speech might be a fun one.
Quarterback – Eric Dungey
If you want to replace him with Ryan Nassib, that is fine, but Dungey’s athleticism makes him a threat to run, which would likely be needed in this matchup.
Running backs – Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey
Carter, who stands third in the Syracuse record books for rushing yards and was a fourth-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts, would be a pounding inside runner to complement Bailey, who had 91 receptions to go with over 2,000 yards on the ground. Jerome Smith and Curtis Brinkley could provide a different look and Tony Fiammetta is available if Babers wants a true fullback.
Wide receivers – Amba Etta-Tawo, Steve Ishmael, Alec Lemon, Erv Philips, Mike Williams
We know what Etta-Tawo, Ishmael, and Philips can do in a Dino Babers offense. Lemon would be an option similar to Ishmael. Williams’ size and athleticism, which helped him pile up over 2,700 yards and 23 scores in his first three years in the NFL, would be a tantalizing combination in the current Syracuse offense.
Tight ends – Nick Provo
After seeing Babers nearly get a 100-yard game from Ravian Pierce last week, he would probably enjoy having the Syracuse career leader in receptions by a tight end at his disposal.
Offensive line – Left tackle Justin Pugh, left guard Rob Trudo, center Macky McPherson, right guard Ryan Bartholomew, right tackle Sean Hickey
Pugh was selected in the first round by the New York Giants, would headline the starting five. A couple other options at guard would be Titans draftee Ryan Durand, Nick
Robinson, and Andrew Tiller, who was drafted by San Francisco and started 14 games over the last two seasons for the San Francisco 49ers.
Defensive line – Right end Chandler Jones, defensive tackles Arthur Jones and Jay Bromley, left end Ron Thompson
The first three were all drafted and have extensive NFL experience, led by Chandler Jones’ 52 sacks in his first half dozen seasons, and Thompson was SU’s best defensive player in 2015.
Linebackers – Outside linebackers Doug Hogue and Marquis Spruill, middle linebacker Zaire Franklin
There is a healthy cluster of linebackers on the second level to choose from. Hogue was a fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2011 and was a defensive stalwart of Doug Marrone’s first bowl team in 2010 with Derrell Smith. Spruill was a fifth-round choice by Atlanta after starting all four years at SU. Cameron Lynch, who has carved out an NFL career mostly on special teams with first the Saint Louis Rams and now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Dyshawn Davis were the top playmakers for Scott Shafer’s teams while Franklin and Parris Bennett fill that role currently.
Defensive backs – A group of cornerbacks Keon Lyn, Brandon Reddish, and Julian Whigham mixed with safeties Antwan Cordy, Durell Eskridge, Mike Holmes, Phillip Thomas, Shamarko Thomas would allow Babers to mix-and-match a solid group. Some of these players cross-trained at the different positions while in Orange, so Babers will just have to sort them out in practice.
Specialists – Running back Prince-Tyson Gulley and safety Max Suter would handle kickoff returns while punts would be wide receiver Brisly Estime’s department, as he ranks second in school history in punt return average. At kicker is Ross Krautman, who ranks second at SU in field goal percentage, fourth in field goals, and fifth in points. Riley Dixon would be the punter. No offense to Rob Long and Sterling Hofrichter, but Dixon allows for more trick play opportunities, including as a holder. After all, #DixonForHeisman.
Could a team comprised of these players beat this year’s Clemson team? Sure. There are 14 NFL draft picks out in this group. There is plenty of additional depth provided by players not mentioned here to solidify the group.
Unfortunately, most were third-round selections or lower, as Pugh and Chandler Jones were the only first-round picks. Currently, Clemson currently has a half dozen players in CBS Sports.com’s top 100 NFL draft prospects, including five in the top 50. Another 2018 NFL draft big board has five Tigers in their top 40. SB Nation put five Clemson players on their pre-season NFL draft watch list of 100 players.
In other words, the Tigers will probably have five guys get drafted in the top three rounds
in April. In other other words, they are pretty likely to have about 20 pretty high NFL draft picks on their roster right now. Oh, and they probably have a few more guys who will end up being taken later in their respective drafts.
So, while a team cherry-picked from the last ten years of Syracuse football could beat the defending national champions, the current version has very, very few of those players, resulting in a very, very tall task in front of them. And it will almost certainly take a Superman-quality leap to clear that tall task on Friday night.