With record-setting quarterback Eric Dungey gone, the reins to Dino Babers’ electric offense get handed to redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito. DeVito, one of the most heralded recruits to come to Syracuse in a long time, got his feet wet last season, appearing in eight games for the Orange. While playing a role in victories over Florida State and North Carolina, DeVito also got roughed up in the loss to Notre Dame. A first-time starter, DeVito takes over the offense with two years of tutelage to go with that playing experience already under his belt.
The listed backup to DeVito out of spring camp was Clayton Welch, a redshirt senior who transferred to Syracuse after spending two years in junior college, but he and Rex Culpepper were competing for the spot in camp. Welch struggled some in the spring game, but did connect on a 71-yard touchdown pass. A redshirt junior, Culpepper has thrown 75 passes in his career at SU, including a pair of touchdowns in his lone start, the 2017 season finale against Boston College.
Moe Neal returns for his senior season with some impressive marks in the school record book in sight. Neal has just over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his first three seasons, including 1,714 rushing yards. Matching last season’s 869 yards on the ground would push him to eighth all-time in rushing yards and reaching the 1,000-yard plateau would propel him to sixth place in front of Syracuse legend Floyd Little.
Neal is just one of many talented backs in the Orange stable. Jarveon Howard, who rumbled for 327 yards and seven touchdowns last season as the primary short-yardage back, returns for his sophomore season. Redshirt junior Abdul Adams, a transfer from Oklahoma who averaged over seven yards per carry and had a 99-yard touchdown at his previous stop, debuted in the Camping World Bowl with a pair of touchdowns.
Chris Elmore, who splits time in the backfield and at tight end, works mostly as a blocker, but did have a pair of one-yard scores last season. Markenzy Pierre, who redshirted as a sophomore last season, has 33 career carries in orange. Freshman Jawhar Jordan enrolled at SU in January and showed what he can do in the spring game, blazing past the defense for a 47-yard touchdown. That speed makes him a wild card both on offense and as a potential kick returner.
Three different wideouts who were major contributors last season return to lead the receiver group. Senior Sean Riley, who operates out of the slot, paced the team with 64 receptions last season. Riley logged three 100-yard receiving games last season, including ten grabs for 164 yards against North Carolina State, and had a 75-yard touchdown catch against Boston College.
Junior Nykeim Johnson and sophomore Taj Harris both were significant contributors last season, as well, finishing with 41 and 40 receptions, respectively. Johnson showed big-play capability, as three of his four touchdowns last season were at least 40 yards long, including an 82-yard score against N.C. State. Midway through his freshman campaign, Harris worked his way into the starting lineup for seven of the final eight games of the season. 34 of his 40 receptions came in those last eight games as Harris set SU receiving records for a freshman in both receptions and yards (565).
Trishton Jackson, who transferred from Michigan State, became eligible after the end of the fall semester and debuted in the Camping World Bowl. The redshirt junior made a splash with three catches, including a 14-yard fourth quarter score that put the Orange in front for good. Sharod Johnson will also be in the mix for snaps outside. The redshirt sophomore had seven catches last season, including three in his first start at Boston College.
Freshman Courtney Jackson had a touchdown grab in the spring game, as did redshirt freshman Anthony Queeley. Redshirt sophomores Cameron Jordan and Russell Thompson-Bishop and redshirt freshman Cooper Lutz all look to make their first impact this season. Redshirt freshman Ed Hendrix, a four-start recruit from Washington, D.C., has been held back by injuries throughout his time on campus and is out indefinitely.
Juniors Chris Elmore and Aaron Hackett will see time at tight end. Elmore, the 295-pound bowling ball, functions mostly as a blocker while Hackett has more traditional tight end size at 6’3”, 235 pounds. Hackett has played on special teams both his season in orange and caught four passes last season, including a touchdown against Pitt.
Gabe Horan had his freshman season ended by injury and was medically disqualified. Redshirt junior Jesse Connors, a transfer from Holy Cross, and freshman Luke Benson are the other tight ends on the roster. Connors will likely be the third tight end and Benson may be redshirting to put on size.
While the Orange lost three starters to graduation, there are still four players on the roster who have over double digits starts on their collegiate resumes, including three with at least 25. The coaching staff has stressed positional flexibility with their offensive linemen during camp, working them out at several positions and subsequently leading to a bit of uncertainty as to how the line will look when the season opens.
Redshirt senior Evan Adams leads all Syracuse players with 33 career starts, including a dozen in each of the last two campaigns. Adams, who earned some ACC preseason accolades, has extensive experience at right guard and will likely return there.
Redshirt junior Aaron Servais has started every game the last two seasons at center. Servais has been working out at center in preseason camp due to an injury that has slowed Sam Heckel, but the coaching staff also likes him at left tackle if Heckel is a full-go.
The third offensive lineman with at least 25 starts is Ryan Alexander, a redshirt senior transfer from South Alabama who will be using his last year of eligibility at Syracuse. Alexander won honorable mention honors in the Sun Belt Conference last season while playing right tackle, but split time during camp, getting opportunities at both tackle slots.
A redshirt junior, Heckel started every game at left guard two seasons ago, but functioned as the top reserve on the line last season, rotating in at both center and guard. Banged up early in camp, Heckel returned to practice and may start at center, nudging Servais to the outside. Heckel could also be plugged in at left guard should the coaching staff opt to keep Servais in the middle.
The fifth likely starter, theoretically at left guard, is not set, but Dakota Davis spent last season as the backup at that position. The redshirt junior was listed as the backup at both guard spots in spring.
Several other players figure to be in the mix on the line, leading to some additional uncertainty. Darius Tisdale, a redshirt sophomore transfer, was ranked as the #8 junior college tackle after last season. He joined the program this summer and will be in the mix at tackle.
Redshirt freshman Carlos Vettorello got work at both center and tackle during the spring, being listed as the starting left tackle entering fall camp. Junior Patrick Davis (guard, tackle), redshirt senior Andreas Duerig (center, guard), and redshirt junior Mike Clark (tackle) could all get looks on the line and freshman Anthony Red started the spring game at right tackle. All could be in the mix in the tranches.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS (6): OG Evan Adams, C Aaron Servais, WR Taj Harris, WR Nykeim Johnson, RB Moe Neal, WR Sean Riley
LEADING RETURNING RUSHER: Moe Neal – 155 carries for 869 yards and five touchdowns
LEADING RETURNING PASSER: Tommy DeVito – 44 completions in 87 attempts for 525 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions
LEADING RETURNING RECEIVERS: Sean Riley – 64 receptions for 756 yards and three touchdowns; Nykeim Johnson – 41 receptions for 565 yards and four touchdowns; Taj Harris – 40 receptions for 565 yards and three touchdowns