Simply put, this is Eric Dungey’s team. The heartbeat of the Orange offense, Dungey has his name written all over the passing section of the school’s record book and with a healthy season, it would almost appear atop categories like career completions and yards. The senior quarterback could also crack the top five in career rushing touchdowns if he repeats last year’s nine scores.
Tommy DeVito will back up Dungey and look for the redshirt freshman to get his feet wet any time the Orange have a comfortable lead. The four-star recruit out of New Jersey is pocket passer who showed some surprising mobility in the spring game.
Rex Culpepper, who already defeated cancer this year, should be third on the depth chart and freshman Chance Amie, a dual threat from Texas, fill out the roster.
As they did the season prior, Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal combined for over 900 yards on the ground and added 30 receptions last season. Strickland was a little more of a workhorse who hit his stride in the middle of the season, amassing 263 yards on 58 carries against Pitt, Clemson, and Miami (including a 100-yard game against the Hurricanes). Neal was more of a big play threat, averaging over five yards per carry and 14 yards per reception. He had a 52-yard touchdown catch and added a 71-yard run, as well.
A pair of freshmen saw a little bit of action as Markenzy Pierre (25 rushing attempts) and Chris Elmore (23 attempts) were mixed in. Pierre logged sporadic carries in ACC play, but Elmore, a 282-pound bowling ball, served as a short-yardage and blocking back over the course of the season.
The Orange added a couple intriguing prospects to the mix, though. Freshman Jarveon Howard joins the team after winning all-state honors in Mississippi as a senior. Abdul Adams, who averaged over nine yards per carry for Oklahoma last season, including ripping off a school-record 99-yard touchdown against Baylor, transferred to SU and will sit out this season. Adams will have two years of eligibility left.
Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips are gone, taking their 442 career receptions with them. The two are atop the career receptions list at SU and their departure leaves a chasm at wide receiver.
Junior Devin Butler is the top returning receiver after grabbing 33 passes last season. A high school quarterback, Butler caught at least five passes three times as a sophomore, including making seven receptions and a touchdown against Pitt. While Butler has had a moderate level of success at SU, he looks like a world-beater in comparison to the rest of the receiver corps.
While opposites in stature, the 5’8” Sean Riley and 6’5” Jamal Custis were almost identical in production last season, notching eight catches apiece. Riley, a junior who also was the primary kickoff and punt returner last season, gained 125 yards on his receptions, while redshirt senior Custis amassed 120 yards and added a score.
Another returning receiver had eight receptions last season – sophomore Nykeim Johnson. Another small (5’8”), slight (167 pounds) receiver like Riley, Johnson earned a starting spot coming out of spring practice.
Those four, who were named the starters over the summer, have a total of 75 receptions on their collegiate resumes. The rest of the receivers have zero, but some of them will have to contribute.
Redshirt freshmen Sharod Johnson, Cameron Jordan, and Russell Thompson-Bishop were listed as backups over the summer and, obviously, none of them have suited up for the Orange. All three were three-star prospects coming out of high school. Johnson was second-team all-state in Florida while the 6’3” Jordan had 11 touchdowns in their respective senior seasons. Thompson-Bishop had 35 scores in high school, including 16 in his senior campaign.
Freshmen Taj Harris, Ed Hendrix, Cooper Lutz, and Anthony Queeley will all have opportunities, as well. Harris played quarterback as a senior in high school, but did a little bit of everything prior to that, including notching 14 receiving touchdowns as a sophomore. Hendrix, rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, had 14 scores as a senior. Lutz played running back and defensive back in high school, earning all-state honors in Pennsylvania. Queeley earned all-state honors in Florida twice, notching over 70 receptions in both his junior and senior seasons.
One player who will not have a chance to help the Orange this year is Trishton Jackson, a transfer from Michigan State, who will sit out this season, but has two years of eligibility left. Jackson played in 21 games in two seasons for the Spartans, catching 17 passes for 232 yards and a score in that time. Jackson was also a four-year starter in basketball in high school and is interested in playing hoops as SU, as well.
Junior college transfer Ravian Pierce was a bright spot in his first year in Orange. Featuring a good combination of size and athleticism, Pierce caught 29 passes, including posting nine receptions for 99 yards against Pitt. The senior also added four scores, two of them coming against Wake Forest. Pierce may end up the leading receiver for SU.
Aaron Hackett, who played mostly on special teams as a freshman, is yet to record a reception at SU and is listed as Pierce’s backup. Kyle Kleinberg, a core special teams contributor, could push for some action on offense, as well.
Outside of Dungey at quarterback, the line is the clearest strength on the offensive side of the ball. Four players who started every game at Syracuse last season return and Aaron Roberts, who started every game for the Orange in 2016, has returned to health to join them. There is a sixth player with significant starting experience, as well, in Koda Martin, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M.
Evan Adams, who is slotted at right guard, is the most experienced member of the unit with 21 starts at SU. Just a redshirt junior, Adams has played in every game in his two previous years after redshirting as a freshman.
Senior Cody Conway is right behind Evans with an active streak of 20 consecutive starts, all at left tackle. Twice an All-ACC Academic Team selection, Conway added a pair of preseason All-ACC third team honors coming into this season. Koda Martin, who played in 34 games at Texas A&M, including starting 16 times, joins the Orange as a graduate transfer and will play right tackle.
Aaron Roberts and Airon Servais, who each have a dozen starts in their careers, should finish out the starting unit. Roberts, a nasty run blocker who missed last season with a knee injury, has reclaimed the left guard spot for his final season. Servais, a redshirt sophomore, led the team by playing 1,036 snaps last season. He returns at center.
Sam Heckel, who started at guard last season in Roberts’ absence, is the primary reserve for the interior positions. Colin Byrne, a redshirt junior who started eight times in 2016, will also be in the mix at guard. Redshirt sophomore Mike Clark and sophomore Patrick Davis were listed as second-teamers at tackle over the summer.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (8): OG Evan Adams, WR Devin Butler, OT Cody Conway, QB Eric Dungey, OG Sam Heckel, TE Ravian Pierce, C Aaron Servais, RB Dontae Strickland
LEADING RETURNING RUSHERS: Eric Dungey – 143 carries for 595 yards and nine touchdowns; Moe Neal – 92 carries for 488 yards and one touchdown; Dontae Strickland – 143 carries for 482 yards and four touchdowns;
LEADING RETURNING PASSER: Eric Dungey – 225 completions in 377 attempts for 2,495 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions
LEADING RETURNING RECEIVERS: Devin Butler – 33 receptions for 327 yards and one touchdown; Ravian Pierce – 29 receptions for 263 yards and four touchdowns