Classes for the spring 2023 semester at Syracuse started on Tuesday, but without a few noticeable players from the football program and not due to an illness picked up over the holiday break. Rather, nine players who were formerly part of the program are no longer members of the Orange.
Early on, the transfer portal entrants looked a lot like the previous offseason, as most of the players departing the program were those who were not major contributors on the field and possibly looking at a step down in competition level in order to get more playing time.
Of course, a new dimension of the transfer portal opened up for SU in mid-December. Defensive backs Ja’Had Carter and Duce Chestnut climbed several steps up the ladder, landing at LSU and Ohio State, respectively, and pass-rushing defensive end Steve Linton officially landed at Texas Tech last week.
Linton was a rotational player at Syracuse who appeared in 29 games with one start over four seasons, netting 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in that time. Carter and Chestnut, however, were major contributors for the Orange.
Carter started 28 times in three seasons for SU, tallying three interceptions to lead the team this season, earning Honorable Mention All-ACC honors. Chestnut started all 24 games in his two years at Syracuse and immediately made a splash as a playmaking cornerback, snagging three of his four career interceptions as a freshman, including one in his first game at Ohio.
Now, Carter and Chestnut are stepping up from the Orange, a program that went to its second bowl game in the last nine years this past December, to programs with legitimate national championship aspirations. With significant contributors leaving to chase bigger and better opportunities, where does that leave SU, a bottom-end major-conference team (the Orange are 24-62 against Power 5 schools in the college playoff era, tied for 61st in winning percentage of 65 Power 5 teams)? How can Syracuse, who all too often is hoping to just finish .500 and simply make a bowl game, compete with those giants?
More importantly, what can the football braintrust do to adjust the appearance of the Orange to make them more appealing? How can they compete for high school recruits in a world where they know players will treat Syracuse like a stepping stone on the way to a higher profile school?
The very top end of football recruiting from high schools for the Orange the last several years has been high three-star players and low four-star players. Why not use a variation of the following recruiting pitch to those high school players:
“We think you’ll definitely play, maybe even start your freshman season at Syracuse. We play whoever is going to help us win, regardless of class. Just show up on campus, prove you’re the best player, and play right away. If you develop into a good enough player that you get the opportunity to transfer to another school you think is better for you, go ahead. Use us for playing time if you’re good enough.”
Cite Chestnut and Carter as examples. Chestnut was listed at 24-7 as a three-star player just outside the top 400 players in his class. Carter was outside the top 1,000 in the nation and listed during the recruiting process as an athlete who ended up playing a ton in his three seasons, even as a freshman. Part of it was injuries among the defensive backs in 2020, but Carter got to play. A lot. Enough to finish second on the team with 67 tackles, including 53 solo, and grab a couple picks.
“They came here and showed they could ball out. They improved at Syracuse. And they moved on to what they believed was greener pastures to keep chasing their dreams. And we’re okay with that.”
Yes, it sounds terrible to say a variation of “sign here, use us, then leave us when you get the chance.”
But, here’s the thing: You don’t know what will happen once they get to campus.
Maybe some players end up liking Syracuse. Maybe they get minor injuries that make them less appealing to top-end programs. That’s the thing about the future – no one knows what will happen.
Of course, aside from basically using an inferiority complex to recruit high schoolers, there are other problems with this plan.
It keeps the Orange from aiming really high for recruits. Of course, they don’t sign them normally, so this isn’t really a problem. 24-7 lists Syracuse signing a grand total of two five-stars and 13 four-stars going all the way back to the beginning of the century and most of those four-star players are on the bottom fringe of that level.
It almost certainly will not work for some positions. Both lines tend to need older, more physically mature players. Only one of the aforementioned four-star players was a lineman, offensive guard Adam Rosner. Rosner redshirted as a freshman and eventually played in 31 games with seven starts, missing some time with injury.
Wide receivers often need time to get comfortable in the offensive scheme with varied responsibilities. Quarterbacks are even more of the same.
But, those defensive backs, running backs, and linebackers? Why not treat a perceived weakness like a strength? What is there to lose?
Maybe some players good enough to come to Syracuse.