For the second time this season, Tommy DeVito came off the bench to spark Syracuse to victory. The first occurred against Florida State when Eric Dungey experienced an eye issue. The redshirt freshman helped turn a close game into a 30-7 rout.
DeVito’s heroics this past Saturday against North Carolina potentially saved Syracuse’s season as the Orange now sits one win away from bowl eligibility.
Now, let’s be honest; North Carolina won’t be mistaken for Clemson anytime soon. The fact that Syracuse was five minutes away from losing to the Tar Heels three weeks after having a lead at Clemson is perplexing from both angles.
Sandwich a loss at Pitt, a game in which Syracuse jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and fans might question Dino Babers’ cake-baking ability. Whether you’re still all-in with Dino’s rebuild job or you’ve adopted a “call me when you win in November” mentality, remember the following:
Dino Babers is winning in part with some of Scott Shafer’s recruits.
That’s not meant to troll the coaching staff or choose sides. It’s simply stating a fact. But it also highlights a truth that some fans have a hard time digesting.
Programs take time to build.
Sure, Jim Boeheim can get Tyus Battle to return, pluck Oshae Brissett out of Canada, provide a landing spot for Elijah Hughes, and sign Jalen Carey. And boom, the Orange is thinking Final Four. Doesn’t work like that in football. Program building takes years.
A quick glance at the depth chart for Saturday’s contest against NC State shows a roster that in Babers’ third year still needs major contributions from Shafer recruits. And that starts with Dungey. Jamal Custis has emerged as a legit threat in the passing game. Cody Conway and Aaron Roberts help anchor the best offensive line Babers has had in his time at Syracuse.
The D-line starts with mammoth Chris Slayton. Chris Fredrick is arguably the Orange’s best cover guy. And Sterling Hofrichter might be the best punter in college football.
And is there anyone out there who doesn’t wish Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips were still eligible this year? Don’t forget Moe Neal, Sam Heckel, and Scoop Bradshaw – three Shafer recruits who Babers elected to still offer a scholarship.
Of course, plenty of Babers’ recruits have made their mark as well. Did you like Devito hitting Nykeim Johnson for the game-tying touchdown? Get used to that combo. How about Jarveon Howard ripping off a 45-yard run against FSU and scoring two TDs at Pitt?
A future defensive backfield that includes Trill Williams, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Andre Cisco will surely be a No Fly Zone for opposing passing offenses. Transfers Abdul Adams and Trishton Jackson – both former 4-star recruits – wait in the wings to join DeVito and the offense next year. Imagine what Babers can do with a roster full of HIS guys.
A word about the elephant in the room: the quarterback situation.
If Babers does opt for DeVito for the rest of the season, don’t forget exactly who he’ll be supplanting. Eric Dungey has been not just one of the best quarterbacks, but one of the best football players to suit up for Syracuse.
As a true freshman, Dungey was thrown into the fire on opening night thanks to a season-ending injury to Terrel Hunt. And he’s never looked back. Dungey has made sensational play after sensational play with his arm and his legs. Not happy that Syracuse only won four games in each of Dino’s first two seasons? Well, we know how the Orange fared in past years without Dungey.
If Dino Babers does deliver Syracuse football to heights not seen since the McNabb years, an argument can be made that Eric Dungey was the most important player that bridged the Shafer-Babers transition.
A former Syracuse coach used to preach to his team that the hottest fire forges the strongest steel. When it comes to waiting for a consistent winner to take the field each week, perhaps that’s one lesson some Syracuse fans need to remember.