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The Fizz’s 2018 Syracuse Football Year-End Awards

Now that we are a week removed from Syracuse finishing off its historic 2018 season with a win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl, let’s take a look back at the incredible season that was for Dino Babers and company with the Fizz’s Year-End Awards for SU Football.

MVP

Eric Dungey

This isn’t a lifetime achievement award — although Dungey definitely deserves one, and Syracuse will shower him with accolades throughout the rest of his life (don’t expect anyone to wear No. 2 anytime soon). Dungey owned the keys to Dino Babers’ offense for the third year in a row, and it showed. The senior never looked more comfortable in the no-huddle; he whittled down the times he looked toward the sideline for a play call to the point where he could engineer entire scoring drives on his own. Babers must have felt like a dad watching his son ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. But maybe the most impressive aspect of Dungey’s season, and the thing that proved his devotion and value to the program, was the way he put his professional aspirations on the back burner and carried the offense with his legs. Dungey averaged 220.6 passing yards per game (54th in the nation), down from 277.2 last season (18th) and 297.7 the year before (12th). You may chalk that up to regression — the North Carolina game would support you — but his efficiency would say otherwise (136.3 passer rating and 7.7 yards per attempt, both way up from last season). Dungey‘s always-strong nose for the end zone reached K9 levels this season, when he piled up 15 rushing touchdowns, tied for third-most among quarterbacks in the country. Usually, signal-callers with NFL dreams go  the other way as their college careers progress: they throw more and run less in an effort to prove their ability to operate a pro-style offense from the pocket. The essence of Eric Dungey is that he always cared more about the team’s success than his own — as evidenced by the countless times he sacrificed his body in search of an extra yard or two — and that was never more apparent than in 2018. The Oregon native’s senior season was the perfect way to cap off one of the most illustrious careers in SU history. – Drew Carter

Offensive Player of the Year

Eric Dungey

Was this even a question? He put together the most complete season of his career and was far and away the Orange’s most explosive and effective offensive weapon. Not only was he a prolific quarterback but he was also the team’s leader in rushing yards gained (949) and was basically the team’s best running back. He holds nearly every SU record imaginable for an offensive player so how could he not be that side’s player of the year. – JD Raucci

Defensive Player of the Year

Andre Cisco

Looking back on it, maybe we should’ve seen this coming from the freshman from the IMG Academy. The whole school is built around sending athletes to D-1 schools and potential pro careers. However, no one thought the low three-star recruit would turn into a freshman all-american and tie for the FBS lead in interceptions. Only the bravest of quarterback’s dared challenge Cisco in the middle of the field after he recorded four picks in the first four games of his career. In his first year, he accomplished more than most do in four. The ACC will be on high alert of Cisco’s positioning at all times in the future. – Thomas Shults

Special Teamer of the Year

Andre Szmyt

On a special teams unit that was one of the best in the country, Syracuse had a player that was the best at his position in the entire country and that was redshirt freshman kicker Andre Szmyt. The Lou Groza Award winner was one field goal shy of tying the NCAA record for field goals in a season with 30 (that mark led the nation this season). He was absolute nails from distance (3-3 50+ yards), did not miss a single extra point (61-of-61) and only missed four field goals the entire year. Considering he wasn’t even listed as the starting kicker going into the season-opener against Western Michigan, the season that the converted soccer player together came out of nowhere and thank goodness it did. Simply put, he was absolutely sensational. – JD Raucci

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Taj Harris

Going into the season, we knew that wide receiver was going to be a question mark for the Orange. SU was losing an All-American in Steve Ishmael and returned only 75 career catches among everyone on the roster. We thought we might see Jamal Custis fit into the Ishmael/Amba Etta-Tawo mold, but when that didn’t happen and Devin Butler struggled, we knew this team was going to have to go wideout-by-committee and that’s exactly what they got thanks in large part to Taj Harris. The freshman from New Jersey was the second-best WR in SU’s 2018 class, yet he stepped up at every possible juncture for the Orange. He put together the most prolific freshman season in the history of the program, setting new school records for freshman receptions (40) and receiving yards (565). He never went over 100 yards in a single game, but his consistency and reliability is what made him so great. Harris had eight games with at least three receptions and another eight with 50+ yards. You knew exactly what you were going to get out of Harris from week-to-week and when he made great plays like a beautiful TD catch versus Boston College or a critical 51-yard bomb against Clemson, that was just icing on the cake. A lot of people probably didn’t even know Taj Harris’s name going into the season, but after the freshman campaign he put together and the bright future he has ahead of him at Syracuse, Orange fans better get used to hearing the name. – JD Raucci

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Andre Cisco

Shocker, right? The first-year safety from Bradenton, Florida has already won ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year, so it would make perfect sense that he takes the cake here. Playing a key role in the Orange’s defensive turnaround, Cisco’s seven picks were twice as many as anyone else on the team. For Cisco, the IMG Academy product is off to a fast start, and his future on The Hill looks like one to rave about. – Harrison Singer

Most Improved

Ryan Guthrie

This award is almost two-fold for Guthrie. Not only did he improve immensely from last year when he had just 11 tackles compared to this season’s 107 (16.5 TFL), but his improvement throughout the 2018 season alone was also remarkable. After having just 18 tackles through the season’s first four games (which also came against four of the year’s weakest opponents), he had no fewer than 6 in a game the rest of the season and had five games with at least 10 against the heart of the schedule. There were times early in the season where he looked lost and like a liability. You couldn’t even come close to saying that by the end of the season. He went from looking like the weakest LB on the field for Syracuse to easily being the strength of the LB corps. Guthrie had massive shoes to fill in replacing Zaire Franklin at MLB and after struggling to begin the year, the Georgia native flipped a switch and transformed himself into the team’s leading tackler and an All-ACC Second Team performer, a drastic improvement from a season ago. – JD Raucci

Most Underrated

Christopher Fredrick

Fredrick has quietly become a lockdown defender for SU. This season he finished with three picks and seven passes defended. He also played a big part in Syracuse’s run defense as he stopped outside runs frequently. While Andre Cisco gets all of the attention, Fredrick shut down opponents’ best receiver all season long. He did it once again against West Virginia. Second team All-American David Sills was clearly frustrated all game long as he was pestered by Fredrick for four quarters. In fact, the corner gave up just one completion on his side of the field. That was a two yard loss for the Mountaineers, where Fredrick delivered a bone crushing hit, knocking out the opponents mouthpiece. With big names along the defensive line and secondary, Fredrick is sometimes the forgotten man. While his stats may not be eye popping, he’s one of the most consistent defenders on the team. – Thomas Shults

Biggest Disappointment

Devin Butler

Butler entered the year with expectations of being the top receiver on the roster. But by year’s end, he was taking more snaps on defense than offense. Butler finished the season with 14 receptions and 126 yards and no touchdowns in just six games. Those numbers alone were what SU fans were accustomed to being put up on a single game basis by Amba Etta-Tawo and Steve Ishmael. His season began to spiral out of control on the heels of his best performance, a 5 catch 45 yard day against Clemson. The junior was suspended for a violation of team rules right before the Pitt game. He went on to make 2 catches for 6 yards over the remaining 9 games. Things got so bad for Butler that he took defensive snaps against Boston College and began to practice on the defensive side of the ball at the end of the year. It brought back memories of Devin M. Butler at defensive back for the Orange. 2019 seems to be a giant mystery for the senior to be, including what position Butler will spend time at. A switch may be the exact change that he needs. – Tyler Aki

Best Single-Game Performance

Ifeatu Melifonwu vs. North Carolina 

This is the most important game of the season that nobody is going to remember. Coming off two straight losses and a bye week, SU was in an unexpected battle against North Carolina. Eric Dungey and the offense was putrid in the first half. Dino Babers went with Tommy DeVito for the second, and Syracuse edged the Tar Heels in overtime. DeVito stole the headlines because…. he’s a quarterback and he’s DeVito. But Ifeatu Melifonwu is the real reason Syracuse won this game, and therefore the real reason Syracuse had the season it did. Christopher Fredrick exited the game with an injury, opening the door for the three-star freshman. UNC immediately peppered Melifonwu with targets, but with little success. He finished the game with four pass breakups. Scoop Bradshaw didn’t have four pass breakups all season! In overtime, Melifonwu made a tackle for loss and broke up a pass to the end zone, keeping North Carolina to a field goal. Raveon Piece’s TD snag sealed the win on SU’s next possession. UNC thought they were going to expose this no-name defensive back en route to a win in the Dome. Iffy thought otherwise. – Gill Gross

Best Play

Jamal Custis’s One-Handed Snag vs Western Michigan

You didn’t have to wait long into the season to see the best play of the year. While Eric Dungey made countless jaw dropping plays, his poor throw against Western Michigan set up the Orange’s top play of 2018. With Syracuse pretty firmly in grasp of the game, Jamal Custis showed everyone why he could be next in line as a potential All-American season. Dungey threw behind Custis, but the redshirt senior showed off his athleticism to make a one-handed snag and power his way into the end zone. – Tyler Aki

Best Surprise

Nearly Knocking Off Clemson in Death Valley 

In a season full of positive surprises, it might seem strange to go with a loss. But the best surprises happen quickly (in college football, that’s four hours). Syracuse’s ten win season and Szmyt’s individual dominance were progressive realizations. Nearly repeating the Clemson upset on road was four hours of, “oh my goodness… I think Syracuse football is legit this season.” Revenge can be sweet. That’s why pretty much everyone, a year removed from Syracuse’s stunning win over Clemson in the Dome, expected the Tigers to deliver a beat down on the Orange in Death Valley. Heavy betting action on the Tigers moved the line all the way to -25 by kickoff. But SU came out to an early lead, knocked out Trevor Lawrence and held on to their advantage until the Tigers’ final possession. On 4th and 6, it took a beautifully timed throw by backup quarterback Chase Brice for CU to stay alive. Travis Etienne eventually scored the game-winning Tigers touchdown with 41 seconds left.   And to this day, the Orange have been the only team to give Clemson a serious test. – Gill Gross

Player to Watch in 2019

Tommy DeVito 

We would be remiss if we recapped the 2018 season without mentioning Tommy DeVito. The redshirt freshman quarterback was such a crucial part of the historic campaign with a coming-out party against Florida State and a heroic performance in the 2OT win over North Carolina. At times, DeVito looked every bit the part of the heir to the Dungey throne. When he was good, he was great, but there were also some times where we saw cracks in his game. He struggled against Western Michigan in spots and he and the rest of the offense looked awful against Notre Dame. Outside of the two games that saw him make his name (FSU & UNC), DeVito completed just 42 percent of his passes for zero touchdowns and two picks. That’s exactly the reason that he’s the player to watch in 2019. He will almost undoubtedly be the starting quarterback when the season gets going, but which Tommy DeVito are we going to get? That’s going to be the biggest question heading into the 2019 season and we’ll just have to wait to find out. – JD Raucci

 

 

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