To say Syracuse football’s 2020 season was a disappointment would be an understatement. It was an 11-week odyssey in futility and frustration. SU’s 1-10 record was its worst since the 2005 Greg Robinson debacle and just the second one-win season since 1948.
However, that didn’t stop the Orange from producing some pro prospects. Three members of Syracuse’s defensive backfield are expected to be taken in this weekend’s NFL draft. With all that talent heading for the pro ranks, it begs the question of how SU was as bad as they were with talented prospects roaming the field.
It’s a little bit more complex than you’d think. A one-win team usually points to coaching as the culprit, but I’m not convinced all the blame lands on Dino Babers’ shoulders. Yes, his career record is a not-so-hot 24-36 through five seasons and yes, he’s only had one winning season. However, SU athletic director John Wildhack has thrown his confidence behind Babers, and nobody can fault Dino for the challenges everyone faced during a COVID-marred season. It also didn’t help a shorthanded Cuse squad had to play four ranked teams.
Babers can’t be blamed for the roster crisis he faced during the year, either. A weak offensive line allowed an ACC-worst 38 sacks during the year that directly contributed to Tommy DeVito’s season-ending leg injury just four games into the year, leaving a void at quarterback that was never filled. Running backs Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard both opted out of the season, paving the way for a surprising breakout campaign from Sean Tucker but hurting the position’s depth over the course of the year. Inexperienced pieces struggled to adapt to Babers’ up-tempo offense and the Syracuse O ultimately finished dead last in the ACC in points scored.
The defense fared a little better, thanks in part to the aforementioned pro prospect trio in cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu and safeties Andre Cisco and Trill Williams. Despite a lacking pass rush (26 sacks ranked 10th in the ACC), the Orange secondary picked off 13 passes on the year, tied for second in the conference. It’s those ball-hawking skills that got NFL scouts talking in the first place.
At the end of the day, the 2021 season is a big year for Coach Babers. He has more of his recruits and returning opt-outs and won’t have to deal with another bizarre pandemic season. If SU just stays healthy, things won’t be as bad as last year.