When we take a look back at the 2019 season for Syracuse football, it’s likely going to be remembered as one of the more disappointing seasons in quite some time that just so happened to finish with one of the most exciting endings possible.
It’s a bit difficult to reflect on the season that was and come away with many positives. The Orange lose 23 seniors to graduation and have a lot of things they need to clean up ahead of the 2020 season next fall. The incoming recruiting class got a nice boost over the weekend but still ranks near the bottom of the ACC (11th of 14, ahead of Duke, Virginia and Virginia Tech).
So what can SU fans look forward to for next year? Well, Pro Football Focus may have just have three answers for you.
The football analysis superpower released its Freshmen All-American Teams over the weekend and even with the 10th best class in the ACC from a season ago, SU saw three guys make the cut, the second most in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech. Let’s take a look at why that may be the case.
OL Matthew Bergeron – Second Team
All season long, the offensive line was by far the most maligned unit for SU. The O-Line finished 128th out of 130 FBS teams in sacks allowed and was constantly ragged on as the entire reason that the attack was struggling. It got so bad that starting left tackle, Ryan Alexander left the program ahead of the Florida State game, unexpectedly thrusting true freshman Matthew Bergeron into the starting lineup. Needless to say, the Canadian passed with absolute flying colors. After rushing for 150+ yards just once in the first seven games of the season, SU hit the 150-yard plateau in every game Bergeron started, including a season-high 286 yards in a romp of Duke. After allowing 34 sacks in the first seven games (4.9/game), SU cut it down to just 16 for the final five games (3.2/game) with Bergeron starting. Every imaginable metric improved with Bergeron at right tackle and he is going to be a fixture of the offensive line for the foreseeable future.
TE Luke Benson – Third Team
After Ravian Pierce departed following the 2018 season, tight end was a big question mark heading into the year. We knew Chris Elmore wasn’t much of a pass-catching threat and we didn’t know what Aaron Hackett was going to bring (he ended up bringing six touchdowns). Both of those older guys performed, but Luke Benson may have been one of the bigger surprises of the season. The former track star in Pennsylvania played in all 12 games of his true freshmen campaign and even though he only hauled in eight passes on the year, he made them count. The speedster (10.87 100-meter dash in high school) turned three of those eight receptions into touchdowns this season, including a 70-yard score against Holy Cross. In fact, all three of his scores were for 20+ yards and he averaged 22 yards per reception in his rookie year. With local product Steven Mahar heading to SU in the next recruiting cycle and Hackett returning for his senior season, the tight end spot could be dangerous in 2020.
LB Mikel Jones – Third Team
Jones vied for top spot in the 2019 cycle for Syracuse with fellow linebacker Lee Kpogba and of the two, Jones was by far the most impressive in his freshman campaign. The third linebacker behind only Lakiem Williams and Andrew Armstrong, Jones played in every game in his true freshman season, compiling 38 tackles, including two TFL and 0.5 sacks. It seemed like every single game saw Jones make one or two genuinely impressive and impactful plays in the flow of the defense while Kpogba was more of a special teams contributor (and a really good one at that). Despite being listed as a backup on the two-deep because of SU’s insistence on branding itself as a 4-2-5 defense, Jones was essentially a starter toward the end of the season and played a huge portion of the defensive snaps. Just like it did last year, SU has to replace both of its top backers in Williams and Armstrong, meaning Jones is pretty much a for-sure thing to be a starter as a true sophomore next season. If he and Kpogba continue to build on their high levels of potential as their careers progress, the ‘Cuse could be set at linebacker for years to come.