Hope springs eternal with 2020 season behind the Orange

Syracuse-NCState-11-28-20
Nov 28, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Taj Harris (3)is tackled by North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jakeen Harris (6) and cornerback Aydan White (15) in the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 college football preseason prognostications have started to emerge. To date, the outlook for Syracuse doesn’t bode well for the Orange and their fans.

Any team coming off a horrendous 1-10 season shouldn’t receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to predicting success in the upcoming season. Last season was the perfect storm of trying to adjust to two new coordinators with almost no Spring ball during a pandemic.

On top of that, the team’s injury list resembled a MASH unit. Syracuse lost starters or key reserves to season-ending injuries at quarterback, running back, along the offensive line, and in the secondary. Only football blue bloods like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have the quality depth to withstand a rash of injuries and not miss a beat.

Despite what the “experts” opine, a closer look at the roster reveals reasons to be optimistic.

Quarterback

There’s an old adage that if you have multiple quarterbacks then you don’t have any quarterbacks.

Last year, Tommy DeVito’s season came to an end against Duke. With DeVito’s talented arm doing nothing more than holding a clipboard on the sideline, the Orange was forced to turn to Rex Culpepper.

Culpepper was a seasoned veteran and an adequate back-up. But there was a reason he was the back-up. Like DeVito, Culpepper missed time to injury too. Dino Babers had to choose from two true freshmen after Culpepper went down.

Mississippi native JaCobian Morgan got the call. Morgan was serviceable. Though, there was a clear distinction between having an upperclassman like Culpepper than a true freshman who had been on campus for a handful of months. Morgan, who seems to have a strong arm, filled in admirably.

Babers added Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader via the transfer portal and recruited Justin Lamson from California. Both players enrolled early to participate in Spring practice.

A healthy DeVito will make a difference for sure. But should he miss time again, more than one experienced option is ready to prevent a drastic fall off in the position.

Running Back

Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard both opted out of last season due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Both players are reportedly back this year.

Jawhar Jordan assumed the RB1 spot in their absence. But Jordan soon suffered the same season-ending fate as so many of his teammates. Jordan has since put his name into the transfer portal.

That opened the door for Sean Tucker. And did he ever make the most of it.

The true freshman led the Orange in rushing in seven of the nine games he played. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times and scored four touchdowns.

Fellow frosh Cooper Lutz showed promise as well. Lutz ran for 114 yards – 80 of which came on a touchdown run – in the finale against Notre Dame.

Adams and Howard both return to challenge Tucker for the starting job. Lutz and his breakaway speed will also be a factor. And don’t forget about incoming recruit Josh Hough. The bruiser from western Pennsylvania was a wrecking ball during his senior year in high school.

The crowded running back room has gone from liability to next man up in depth.

Offensive Line

A return to form by DeVito and a stable of horses in the back field won’t mean a hill of beans if the offensive line continues to struggle.

Babers noted last year that if not for Chris Elmore suiting up all season long at one of the guard positions, there wouldn’t have been a season to play. That is how bleak the OL was last year.

The offensive line is poised to return to respectability despite the recent announcement that Willie Tyler will not be transferring to Syracuse.

Florida transfer Chris Bleich is finally eligible. Bleich provides an instant upgrade and is poised to assume a starting spot at guard. Dakota Davis is set to resume his role at the other guard spot after missing most of last season to injury. Those two together should open some holes to reignite the Orange ground attack.

Airon Servais, Matthew Bergeron, Carlos Vettorello, and Darius Tisdale – starters last season – also return. Returnees Anthony Red, Wil Froumy, Josh Ilaoa, Patrick Davis, and Garth Barclay should provide the depth the OL lacked last season.

Linebacker

The linebacking corps was one of the most impressive units last season despite being one of the youngest.

Mikel Jones emerged as a potential leader of the defense. He intercepted four passes, defensed five passes, forced three fumbles, and recovered two others.

Geoff Cantin-Arku, Stefon Thompson, Marlowe Wax, and Steve Linton – all of whom flashed last season – return along with Jones. None of those players is older than a sophomore in terms of eligibility thanks to the NCAA giving everyone a free pass due to the pandemic.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against Virginia Tech

Secondary

The Syracuse secondary is one unit poised to take a hit from last year.

Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melifonwu were both selected in the third round of the NFL Draft while Trill Williams found his way onto Miami’s roster.

Cisco and Williams both suffered season-ending injuries. How much better would the Orange defense have been if Cisco, Williams, Melifonwu, and redshirt freshman sensation Garrett Williams all played together the majority of the season?

Syracuse returns Garret Williams and a host of young players who gained valuable experience. Among the returnees are Rob Hanna, Ja’Had Carter, Adrian Cole, Aman Greenwood, Ben Labrosse, and Neil Nunn.

Duce Chestnut, Syracuse’s highest ranked recruit, enrolled early and Jason Simmons is a transfer from New Mexico. Both figure to be in the mix for playing time too.

Dino Babers and Syracuse need to rebound from last year’s debacle. Ironically, the lumps that the Orange took from playing a slew of young players just might provide the depth needed to endure, and improve, in the ACC.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page, follow us @TheJuiceOnline and listen to our podcast.

About Steve Auger 117 Articles
Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. His work has been published on Care.com, Tom’s of Maine, Purina’s Petcentric.com and the Westford Patch. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. Follow him on Twitter @Corner_Cube.