The 2020 Syracuse football season is one the program would almost certainly like to forget. With a global pandemic throwing almost everything on its ear, the Orange finished 1-10 on the campaign, including a 1-9 mark in ACC play. Eight of their losses were by double figures and the team dropped their last seven games.
Multiple players opted out prior to the season due to the pandemic, thinning the roster. Injuries piled up, as well, contributing to the early end of the collegiate careers of star defensive backs Andre Cisco and Trill Williams and doing a different, higher degree of damage on the offensive line. Chris Elmore, who had previously played fullback and tight end along with a light sprinkling at defensive tackle, ended up starting the first nine games at guard to help patch a beaten-up unit.
Things were passable out of the gate, as the opener at #18 North Carolina was tight until the hosts blew it open in the fourth quarter, followed by another close loss against Pitt and a 37-20 home victory over Georgia Tech.
The wheels started to come off the following week, as Duke’s offense ran for 363 yards against the Orange and their defense knocked out starting quarterback Tommy DeVito, who would miss the remainder of the season. Rex Culpepper took over the next game against Liberty, the first of three straight blowout losses for SU.
Syracuse was competitive against Boston College and gave North Carolina State trouble for three quarters, but when the curtain came down, the Orange had their only double-digit loss campaign in school history outside of the Greg Robinson era.
The season was not without some promising individual accomplishments. Sean Tucker led the team in rushing with 626 yards, good for the third-highest total by a freshman in school history, and became the second freshman to roll up at least three 100-yard games (Joe Morris, 1978). Redshirt sophomore Cooper Lutz racked up 114 yards against Notre Dame. Junior wide receiver Taj Harris caught 58 passes and got within shouting distance of 2,000 career receiving yards.
While the new 3-3-5 defense was a bottom-third defense nationally in points allowed, it was very good at forcing turnovers, finishing tied for eighth in the nation, and was one of five teams to average at least one interception and one fumble recovery per game. Linebacker Mikel Jones had four picks and a couple fumble recoveries while leading the team in tackles. Redshirt freshman Garrett Williams led the ACC in passes defended and was named a freshman All-American by The Athletic.
Those two are part of a defense that returns its top five tacklers and its entire front line. The players on the offensive line are experienced, as five players have started at least ten games at Syracuse. Guard Chris Bleich, who redshirted last season, is expected to finally debut in orange after starting eight games for a top-ten Florida team in 2019.
Sterlin Gilbert (offense) and Tony White (defense) had a full offseason coming into their second seasons coordinating on their respective sides of the ball. Terry Samuel takes over coaching wide receivers and Mike Schmidt does the same for the offensive line. The rest of Dino Babers’ coaching staff remains the same, giving some continuity to the program.
While there is almost literally nowhere to go but up, it remains to be seen if a mostly young roster – about 80 percent redshirt sophomores or younger – can go there.