We’re just 20 days away from Syracuse football’s 2021 opener, but the team’s most important position battle remains undecided. Throughout the offseason, head coach Dino Babers has avoided naming a starting quarterback out of a crowded room. The situation has quickly developed into one of the more interesting quarterback controversies in recent SU history.
And why not? The battle between incumbent starter Tommy DeVito and transfer Garrett Shrader has all the storyline goods. It’s the experienced pocket passing DeVito versus the wildcard mobile playmaker in Shrader. It’s the newcomer versus the old guard. What’s not to like?
Well, if you’re Babers, it’s the incessant questions he’s been peppered with all summer. Babers commented he’d reasonably like the opening day starter to finish the season in 2021, and just 10 days ago said he’d like “someone to take that position [QB] over and own it” before jokingly adding that he “[doesn’t] want to decide who the quarterback is going to be”. Who can blame him? It’s not the first time in recent history Babers has had to make that unenviable decision, nor is it the first time DeVito finds himself wrapped up in conversations surrounding his role.
Three years ago, Babers had to shut down QB controversy rumors in the midst of his 10-3 2018 campaign. After starter Eric Dungey struggled against UNC in October of that year, then-freshman Tommy DeVito came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes (two in OT) to beat the Heels. It doesn’t seem like Babers seriously considered DeVito as the starter after that point, and history supports his choice to stick with Dungey that season.
However, DeVito’s performance has waned since that relief effort, and conversations swirling around Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader have been ongoing since his move up to SU just two weeks after the 2020 season finale. It’s opened the door to a controversy akin to what SU fans saw prior to the 2013 season, and that might be good news for DeVito.
Heading into 2013, three-year starter Ryan Nassib had just graduated with all kinds of gaudy school passing marks under his belt, and new head man Scott Shafer had to decide who his quarterback was going to be: the mobile, in-house sophomore Terrel Hunt, or senior Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen.
Shafer explicitly called his pending choice a “controversy” in April of 2013 and apparently struggled with his choice all summer. Allen was a veteran transfer with a rocket arm, but he had thrown just 30 passes at Oklahoma in two seasons. It was still 30 more than Hunt had tossed his entire SU career – the latter redshirted in 2011 and appeared in just a single game as a special teamer in 2012. Calls for Hunt focused on his versatility and fit within SU’s scheme, while others gushed about Allen’s ability (including those at the Fizz) to bring a new downfield dimension to Syracuse’s offense.
Shafer tabbed Drew Allen as his guy as a game-time decision before the team’s opener against Penn State, but the move backfired. Allen threw two interceptions in the opener, including a final drive game-loser with SU down 23-17, before throwing four more the following week in a blowout loss to Northwestern. After Allen started poorly the next week against Wagner, Shafer yanked him for Terrel Hunt, who went 15-18 for 265 yards and three touchdowns in a 54-0 win.
The rest is history. Hunt started the next week and never relinquished his role. Allen ended his SU career with two touchdowns and nine picks. SU went 7-4 in their last 11, including a win in the Texas Bowl over Minnesota in which Hunt accounted for over 250 total yards.
This is all relevant to 2021 because in both the DeVito/Dungey debate in 2018 and the Hunt/Allen battle in 2013, the incumbents (Dungey in ‘18, Hunt in ‘13) won out over the newcomers (DeVito and Allen). Precedent dictates going with your returning starter. At this point, it’s unknown if DeVito will start the year in a few weeks or give his job up sometime this Fall. What’s important is that Babers makes the right choices – this season and the future of the program may depend on it.