At the end of every college football season, there are a plethora of awards. Each major publication seems to have their own awards and rankings. Then the NCAA has theirs. Then there are the random ones you’ve never heard of, but a school’s athletic department is sure to publicize.
The preseason is the same with just a slight tweak. Instead of awards, there are countless watch lists. Some honor the student athlete’s off-the-field service, like Kingsley Jonathan being named to the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List. Others recognize the athletes’ playing abilities.
Syracuse Football had four players named to national preseason watch lists. Those honors include Mikel Jones making the Butkus Award list for best linebacker, Andre Szmyt making the Lou Groza Award list for best kicker, Taj Harris making the Biletnikoff list for best wide receiver, and Sean Tucker making the Doak Walker list for best running back.
Making these watch lists is an accomplishment for the players. Most of the lists consist of around 50 student athletes, so if you are on the list you have to be pretty darn good.
At first glance, Syracuse having four players honored shows that the team has a lot of individual talent. But if you dig deeper, these preseason lists tell you more about this football program — the team is underachieving and that largely lands on the coaching staff’s shortcomings.
If you have four of the top players in the country, at extremely important positions too with running back, linebacker, receiver and kicker, you should be better than a 1-10 team. Sure, some of these guys came on the scene last year and didn’t have enough time to impact the team enough to change the record. But that’s not completely true. Taj Harris was a day-one starter. Sean Tucker played in nine of the 11 games. Mikel Jones didn’t miss a game. Andre Szmyt was available all season.
There were plenty of other factors and other positions that led to Syracuse’s poor season a year ago, but the simple fact is the Orange have enough talent on the field to be a competitive team. They might not compete for an ACC title or be in bowl contention, but they absolutely have the individuals to be better than what they were.
These preseason watch lists tell you the real problem with Syracuse is the coaching. Dino Babers is a good coach; he proved that in 2018. However, since then there has been a big drop in the level of coaching, both from the top and at the positional level.
Syracuse’s success in 2021 will of course depend on the players, especially the four preseason watch list honorees, but it will depend more on the coaching. This upcoming season will be the true barometer of Babers and his staff. They have the talent on the field. Now, can they utilize it in the right ways to win games and pull this program out of the pit that was last season?