Orange Watch: 2020 has created unique challenges for Syracuse football

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Syracuse head coach Dino Babers speaks with the media following the Orange's 21-10 loss at Pittsburgh.

Item: From having only three spring practices, restrictions with summer training, interruptions to pre-season practice, a condensed schedule of virtually all ACC games, and now an injury list a mile long, head coach Dino Barbers is encountering a season like no other in his long career.

Let’s take a capsule review at what the Syracuse football team has faced and/or will encounter since the season debuted a month ago:

  • The two returning running backs with the most experience (Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard) opted out of the COVID-19 stricken season severely deleting depth at the position.
  • A talented and much-needed offensive line transfer from Florida (Chris Bleich) was denied immediate NCAA eligibility.
  • The defensive back with the most interceptions among current FBS players (Andre Cisco) accidentally collided with a teammate in pre-game warmups before the home opener, suffered an undisclosed injury and is out for the season.
  • The starting quarterback (Tommy Devito), seemingly scrambling in circles against every opponent while playing behind a depleted offensive line, finally succumbed to a serious injury and is likely out for the season.
  • Last Saturday, Syracuse fell at home by two touchdowns to a winless ACC opponent (Duke) to drop its record to 1-3.
  • The next opponent (Liberty) in just its second season as a full FBS program, and a team the Orange shutout last year on the road, is a current 3.5-point favorite to beat the ‘Cuse in the Dome this Saturday.

Ouch, no pun intended.

Injuries are part of the physical nature football. All teams suffer losses to key players and proclaim the mantra, “next man up.”

The problem for the Syracuse program the last two seasons is that often times the next player to hit the field is likely young and raw, and lacking the strength and game experience to get the feel and speed of live action. Especially in a Power 5 conference like the ACC.

“Football’s physical, and that’s the part that makes us different from other sports, and that’s the part that we embrace,” Babers proclaimed Monday at his weekly session with the media. “We understand that people are going to get hurt, and that next guys are going to have to step up, and eventually guys will have an opportunity to come back. It’s what makes the game unique, it’s the reason why you (fans) love the game and we love the game, and we accept that part of it.”

What’s been hard to digest is the sheer number of injuries that have decimated a roster that is short on game experience. Our unofficial count is 13 starters on both sides of the ball that have missed portions of action or entire games this season, along with eight “next men up,” key second-team players on the depth chart.

With the limited opportunities for training and development of a young roster in a pandemic-interrupted 2020, Babers and his staff have had their work cut out for them.

» Related: Duke dominates Syracuse for first win of 2020 season

“I think the biggest thing is when you understand you’re playing a pure ACC schedule (other than Liberty) there’s no breaks,” proclaimed Babers when asked about what has made preparing for this season more difficult.

“The injuries mount up and you’re getting younger and younger people playing who have not been developed in the weight room the way they need to be developed. They’re hitting guys who are bigger than them, and there’s a big difference between 18-and-19-year-olds hitting guys who are 21 and 22. That’s the biggest difference.”

So, at 1-3 and likely to not be favored in any of the remaining seven games on the schedule, what is Babers message to Orange Nation as it ponders another potential season minus a bowl game?

“I would say think about (a winless) Duke (team), and what they did to us.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.