There aren’t many positives for Syracuse Football this year, to state the obvious. The Orange’s 1-6 start is their worst since 2008. Sure, you can put a lot of the blame on the sheer amount of injuries SU has had to deal with, but good teams are able to work around gaps in the depth chart. Syracuse is not one of those good teams.
There is plenty of negativity around the Syracuse program right now, and rightfully so, but let’s try to be positive. The Orange are a little past the halfway point of the 2020 season, so here my mid-season awards.
Offensive MVP: Sean Tucker
This one is just obvious. With Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard opting out before the season started, the running back position was a big question mark for Syracuse. Jawhar Jordan was supposed to be the next guy up, followed by Markenzy Pierre, but neither were anything special. Then some freshman named Sean Tucker, who no one knew, took the SU offense over in dominant fashion. Since, Tucker has been the entire Orange offense. He’s leading the team with 362 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Without him in the game, the Syracuse offense turns one dimensional. He has carried this team and is really the only bright spot on that side of the ball.
Defensive MVP: Mikel Jones
There have been a couple players on the defensive side of the ball that are worthy of Defensive MVP this season, but Mikel Jones’s resume is just a tad bit better than the other options. The linebacking corps was thought to be SU’s weakness going into the year, but Jones has led the unit to be pretty solid. The sophomore leads the team in tackles with 49. He is tied in first in the entire FBS with three interceptions on the season. Plus, Jones has forced and recovered two fumbles. The Syracuse defense is known for forcing turnovers this season and Jones is a big reason for it. He’s been fantastic and is my Defensive MVP so far.
Most Improved: Nykeim Johnson
In 2018, Nykeim Johnson recorded 565 receiving yards and four touchdowns. In 2019, he battled with an injury and only tallied 99 yards, while never finding the endzone. This season in 2020, the senior already has 243 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Plus, he’s been a dangerous returner on both punts and kickoffs. After Trishton Jackson’s departure, Syracuse needed some help at the receiving position and Johnson has stepped up in a big way as WR2. It was a minor setback for Nykeim, for a major comeback and he’s out to prove himself this year.
Best Newcomer: Nolan Cooney
Sure, Nolan Cooney has been on the team for five years and is currently a redshirt-senior, but prior to this year he didn’t do much other than hold for placekicks. So, in my book, that means he can still be considered a newcomer. Cooney is the most used punter in the FBS with 49 punts already this season. That doesn’t say much about him, it actually says a lot about the Syracuse offense. But, when Cooney’s name is called he is always there to impress. Want some nerdy punting stats to prove how good he is? Okay, here you go– he has 19 punts that were more than 50 yards, 17 of his punts landed inside the 20 yard line, only two of his punts have been touchbacks, and 15 of them have been faircaught, meaning he puts quite a bit of airtime on them. Simply put, Nolan Cooney is an absolute stud and is yet another NFL-caliber punter playing for the Orange.
Biggest Disappointment: Aaron Hackett
Last season, Aaron Hackett averaged two receptions per game and tallied six touchdowns. You expected him to continue on that trend and be used even more this year, but that isn’t the case. The tight end only has five receptions and one touchdown in seven games played. It may not be Hackett’s fault because Sterlin Gilbert’s offense doesn’t target the tight ends much, but it’s still disappointing to not see Hackett being used that much. He is a body and can be a serious threat in the red zone. You really hope Hackett and the SU offense make some changes before the season is up.