An early look at the 2019 Syracuse football team

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Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey looks to throw against Wagner. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

With the Syracuse football offseason officially underway, here’s a quick look at the 2019 Syracuse football team:

WHO’S OUT:

  • OFFENSE: First and foremost, the Orange lose quarterback Eric Dungey, who broke SU’s all-time passing record, finishing with 9,255 yards. He passed Ryan Nassib’s record at 9,190. SU also loses three skill players in wide receiver Jamal Custis, tight end Ravian Pierce and running back Dontae Strickland. The biggest question mark heading into the offseason is how the Orange will replace three offensive linemen in tackles Koda Martin and Cody Conway, and interior lineman Aaron Roberts.
  • DEFENSE: Syracuse loses just three starters from this unit, though two come from an already thin linebacker core with second team All-ACC selection Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner moving on. The Orange also lose defensive tackle Chris Slayton, a key member of its defense line.

WHO’S IN: Syracuse added 17 players during the early signing period, and also has a pair of former four-star transfers that are now eligible. Among the key additions will be…

  • We all saw the potential impact that transfers Abdul Adams (Oklahoma) and Trishton Jackson (Michigan State) can have on next year’s team. Adams rushed for two scores during the Orange’s win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Jackson caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. The two should more than make up for the losses of Custis and Strickland.
  • The crown jewels of the early signing class are linebackers Mikel Jones (Miami, Fla.) and Lee Kpogba (Winston-Salem, N.C.). Each was considered a four-star prospect, with Kpogba appearing as the No. 124 recruit on Rivals.com’s Top 250 list and Jones ranked as No. 296 on the ESPN 300. Jones is the second ESPN 300 signing for head coach Dino Babers, with the other being Tommy DeVito in 2017.
  • The Syracuse coaching staff also had a huge coup to get a commitment from defensive back Cornelius Nunn (Miami, Fla.). If you remember, Nunn originally committed to the Orange over the summer and then decommitted in October to Miami. He recommitted in November, and is one of SU’s top incoming prospects in the secondary.

» Related: Confluence of events would need to happen to lure Dino Babers from Syracuse

WHO MAY BE IN:

  • Syracuse still has several spots open in the 2019 class. Among the names that you may see the Orange pushing for ahead of Signing Day include Running back Michel Dukes (Charleston, SC), wide receivers Steven Linton (Dublin, GA) and Anthony Johnson (Cleveland, OH), defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu (Virginia, MN), and defensive back Theodore Lucas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).

WHO’S BACK:

Even with some key losses on the offensive side of the ball, the Orange may be even more talented and explosive heading into 2019 with these key returnees.

  • QB Tommy DeVito: The Elite 11 quarterback will have his opportunity to run SU’s high-powered offense. He showed his potential in wins over Florida State and North Carolina, relieving an ineffective Dungey to throw a combined four touchdowns in those two games. But he also struggled in relief of Dungey in a brutal loss to Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium, where he threw for just 105 yards on 14 of 31 passing with two interceptions.
  • RB Moe Neal: Neal led the Orange in rushing with 827 yards to go with five touchdowns. He’ll form a powerful tandem with Adams in the backfield.
  • WR Taj Harris: The freshman emerged as a reliable route runner, finishing fourth on the team with 565 yards and three touchdowns, setting a school record for receiving yards by a freshman that was previously held by Shelby Hill (558) in 1990.
  • DEs Alton RobinsonKendall Coleman: The pass rushing duo ended up being a potent combination, amassing 17 sacks between them. Robinson was named to the All-ACC Second Team for his efforts.
  • S Andre Cisco: Cisco, with seven interceptions, was named to the All-ACC First Team and was also an AP Third Team All American. Best of all, he’s only a rising sophomore.
  • DBs Chris Fredrick & Trill Williams: Really, we could have put Ifeatu Melifonwu and Scoop Bradshaw in the header as well. This defensive back unit is the deepest and most talented on the team, and can make up for a lack of depth at the linebacker position.
  • P Sterling Hofrichter: The All-ACC First-Team selection averaged 43.3 yards per attempt and placed an ACC-leading 25 punts inside the opponents’ 25-yard line.
  • Andre Szmyt: The Lou Groza winner for best college kicker hit 28-of-32 field goals during the regular season, and tacked on two more field goals in the Camping World Bowl. He was just the ninth unanimous All-American in program history.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

  1. Can DeVito fill Dungey’s shoes? There’s no doubt that Dungey will go down as one of the best to line up under center at Syracuse. DeVito comes in as the more highly touted prospect, hand-picked by Babers to run the uptempo SU offense. He’s got the talent. Now, he has to deliver.
  2. Who will step up in the linebacker group? Syracuse shifted to a two-linebacker set for large stretches, and those two linebackers are now graduating. Shyheim Cullen and Andrew Armstrong are the two most experienced players left, and there’s a talented, but unproven collection of players behind them.
  3. McKinley Williams and Robinson were half of an imposing defensive line. Both missed the postseason for what the athletics department would only describe as “personal reasons.” Will both be back in elite form in the fall?
  4. Who will emerge as SU’s go-to receiver? Since Babers has been as SU, he’s had a different top receiver each season. His first year at Syracuse, transfer Amba Etta-Tawo emerged as a top option. Last year it was Steve Ishmael before Custis emerged as the top option. Sean Riley (733 yards, three touchdowns) was SU’s second leading receiver, while Nykeim Johnson (555, four TDs) was third. The aforementioned Harris and Jackson are also candidates, as well.
  5. How will Syracuse’s offensive line hold up? As stated above, the Orange need to replace both tackles and an interior lineman. Rising senior guard Andrejas Duerig is the most experienced, and behind him is plenty of youth like redshirt sophomore Dakota Davis. Rising junior Patrick Davis and redshirt freshman Qadir White are two intriguing candidates at tackle.
  6. Can SU take advantage of its easier schedule? Syracuse has one of its easiest non-conference schedules in recent memory. Their Power 5 opponent is Maryland, which is in the middle of a regime change. They open the season at Liberty and host Western Michigan and Holy Cross. Their ACC crossover game is at Duke, and they also travel to Louisville, and Florida State, both which are projected to be in down years. Boston College, Clemson, Pitt and Wake Forest are all at home in 2019. Most prognosticators should have the Orange at eight or more wins in August.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2373 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.