Every year each Fizz member predicts the season win total for football before the season. Last year, like most, we were way off. Now after the surprising 10-win season, it’s time to see what the Fizz has in store for the most anticipated season in two decades.
In my eyes, the hype around this year’s team is more than justified. SU’s most telling game last year was the Camping World Bowl. Not only did we see the continued development of guys like Taj Harris, Moe Neal and Andre Cisco, but we saw transfers Trishton Jackson and Abdul Adams make an immediate impact. In terms of the quarterback, there is no reason to believe Tommy DeVito will struggle in 2019. He’s been waiting for this moment for three years. DeVito and Babers have used that time to develop their relationship in preparation for this season. Oh yeah, we haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. Two returning double-digit sack men (Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson) and all four starters back from what was a much-improved secondary. When you combine the offensive potential and defensive flair with the best punter and kicker in the ACC, you get a team with plenty of hype. That’s Syracuse this season. Babers will lead the Orange to its first Orange Bowl appearance in since 1998.
I would be surprised if Syracuse meets the high expectations that have been placed upon them this season. It’s surprising how few have considered the possibility of growing pains. The two most important positions in football are quarterback and offensive line. SU has inexperience at both. Overall, the Orange ranks 90th in the country in offensive returning production. Tommy DeVito has shown signs of being sack prone due to his penchant for holding onto the ball. The New Jersey product also needs to improve his 50% completion percentage from last season. Dino Babers has hyped the defense more than anything throughout camp. There’s a lot to like about that unit (Superstar edge rushers and stacked secondary, mainly.) But is an up-tempo team that plays home games indoors really ready to ride the coattails of their defense en route to double-digit wins? SU underperforms this season, but still manages eight wins due to a favorable schedule.
At this point, it’s a little bit hard not to buy into the hype surrounding this Syracuse football team. They’re coming off their best season in nearly two decades and return a ton of guys to a defense that is absolutely loaded with talent and playmakers. Yes, they lose their biggest offensive weapon in Eric Dungey, but they gain that Tommy DeVito kid in the process and from what we’ve seen from him, the high-octane offense might actually operate more effectively in his reign. The big week three matchup with Clemson is the one that everybody has their eyes on, but pay close attention to a potential trap game in the form of an improved Maryland team in week two. If SU can get past the Terps undefeated and hold their own against the overwhelmingly talented Tigers (or maybe even beat them), then they’re going to give themselves a great chance to make this another season to remember. The linebackers and interior D-linemen are going to have to hold up on the defensive side of the football, but as long as DeVito and company are explosive on offense, there’s no reason that SU can’t be the second-best team in the ACC as many pundits have predicted. If I had to guess, I’d see their three losses coming in the form of some combination of Clemson, NC State/Florida State on the road and rivalry games in Pitt and Boston College. Any way you slice it though, this is a season full of incredibly high expectations and with the way it looks right now and a relatively favorable schedule on the docket, many of them could easily be met.
Looking at SU’s schedule, it’s shocking how weak the ACC is this year. Syracuse should be favorites in every game besides Clemson’s trek to the Dome. Even that is a winnable game. But Trevor Lawrence proves too tough, and the Tigers exit with a hard fought road win. With every first-year quarterback there are growing pains. Those kinks aren’t fixed by Week 3. After the Clemson game, Tommy DeVito and the Orange drop another game. Look at back-to-back weeks against NC State and Pittsburgh as a place where Syracuse may trip up. By the end of the regular season, SU hits double digit wins, but loses its bowl game in a nail biter.
Fresh off a 10-3 season that ended in convincing fashion, it’s no secret that expectations are as high for SU as they’ve been in quite some time. The Orange returns a whole pack of key players, highlighted by Moe Neal, Sean Riley, Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman and Andre Cisco, among others. However, the one spot SU does not bring back a key contributor to is likely the most important spot on the field. Syracuse lost quarterback Eric Dungey after an illustrious career on The Hill, topped off by a historic senior season. Dungey’s graduation leaves Syracuse headed by Tommy DeVito under center, where a great deal still remains to be seen. DeVito has arm talent, but replicating Dungey’s production will certainly be a tall order. With a new guy under center this season, it’s hard to imagine the Orange repeating the high level of success it reached with Dungey in 2018. Basically, we shouldn’t expect a Patrick Mahomes type situation. SU seems to be on track for about 7 or 8 regular season wins.
On one hand the hype feels like too much. But, on the other hand, it really is hard to find too many loses on this schedule. Road games at Maryland, NC State, Florida State and Duke are maybe being overlooked a little bit. Let’s say the Orange split those four contests and lose a close one at home to Clemson. That’s a really solid season that proves to the crowd of casual fans who know Eric Dungey but don’t know Tommy DeVito that last year was no fluke. DeVito’s play in his first year as the starter is the obvious X-factor. The offensive line is a close second though. Perhaps my concerns about the lack of stability there going into game one are slightly larger than most. With that in mind, I’m not talking Orange Bowl yet. I’m not that far off either though.