It’s finally here. After a disappointing 2020 season, Syracuse kicks off its 2021 campaign on September 4 at Ohio. Before the season gets underway, we at Orange Fizz broke out the crystal balls to predict the Orange’s record.
It pains me to say this, but this is actually an optimistic prediction. There is a real possibility that this team doesn’t hit even the three win mark.
The simple truth is, there are just too many question marks surrounding this team. Will the offensive line be better? Who will be QB1 and can he hold on to the position? Will the defensive line and linebackers be able to stop a running attack? Does SU have the DB personnel to fill some open gaps?
Most of my answers to those questions are negative, so I can’t have too positive of an outlook on the season. Syracuse will benefit from a pretty easy non-conference schedule, which I have them winning two games in. Then the Orange will pull out one surprising ACC win and that’s how you get to three wins. I’d love to say there are more out there, but realistically there just isn’t.
All these record predictions come down to how many ACC wins Syracuse will pick up. Despite how bad the Orange were last season with just one win, there’s no denying an all-ACC schedule with the exception of one game against a really good Liberty team was a bad break. Now, unlike last year, there are a few games fans can look at on the schedule and expect to win. Albany is one of them. Ohio is another (probably). From there it just comes down to stealing a win in conference. The November 13th matchup at Louisville seems like the most likely conference win, despite SU’s 30-0 loss on the road against UL last year. The harsh truth about this schedule is a lot of the beatable teams like Florida State and Louisville are scheduled on the road. So, the deck is stacked against Syracuse in contending in the ACC this year.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, there’s no reason Syracuse shouldn’t be better than they were last season. Between the injuries on the offensive line, behind center, secondary, and inconsistency from the receivers Syracuse should get better by default. That’s not to say the offense won’t struggle. All signs point to Tommy DeVito starting the season simply because of his mental head start on Garrett Shrader. The Mississippi State transfer has a lot of ground to make up. The biggest question is how much better the defense will be. When Tony White’s 3-3-5 struggled last year, injuries and inexperience (no spring ball) were scapegoats. Neither of those will be valid excuses this season with all the young defensive backs being thrown into the fire last year and learning on the fly while Garrett Williams emerged as a bonafide star. If the Orange win games, it will likely be on the back of the defense.
Depending on who you ask, this is a better season than expected for SU. Many pundits don’t think the Orange will claim any ACC wins in 2021. I believe Syracuse triumphs over Florida State and Louisville both on the road. Perhaps the ‘Loud House’ can propel Dino Babers and Company to an upset win. If you want to circle your calendar, that scenario could arise against Wake Forest, Rutgers, or Pittsburgh but I’m not predicting it.
Top to bottom, the conference is very competitive and SU could easily lose to both the Seminoles and the Cardinals. However, I think ‘Cuse steals those games while still failing to make a bowl including losses in six of its last seven games. As you could probably infer, I think Syracuse takes down Ohio in the opener and UAlbany in the I-90 rivalry.
As far as FSU and UL, I think both programs are in a tough spot with a lot of young talent that has to replace a lot of departed production. Additionally, both teams are still trying to dig themselves out of some deep mudpools from previous coaching tenures. I like Syracuse to get revenge against the Noles after a 2019 beatdown and steal its lunch money back from Scott Satterfield and Company coming off a bye week in November.
Is this enough for Babers to keep his job and afford a year six? I think so but the seat is absolutely scorching like it’s in the middle of Death Valley.
Syracuse football is at a crossroads right now. Either two-year incumbent signal-caller Tommy DeVito finally figures it out, and all of the 315 breathes a sigh of relief, or Dino Babers has to turn to some relatively unproven commodities. If DeVito flops for the third straight season, all eyes turn towards Babers. Bigger questions must be asked of Dino if “TD-13” can’t lead the offense, but those are going to be saved for later in the season. Back to the gridiron, I do firmly believe in Garrett Shrader. I think his athleticism and running ability are going to provide a dynamic that the Orange offense sorely needs, even if his O-Line struggles again. Sean Tucker is an NFL-caliber back, and with the support of Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, the backfield is the best position group Syracuse has. It would be nice to have a third guy behind Taj Harris and Anthony Queeley (it could be Luke Benson if Sterling Gilbert has a change of heart). I expect the defense to be solid this year, as all 11 starters should have ACC experience. Mikel Jones is an All-ACC candidate from day one, and we could also see serious flashes of multi-dimensional ability from Duce Chestnut. Special teams are a lock to be great.
To circle back around, everything depends on QB play. If DeVito is throwing dimes through the non-conference, this team could be a pain in the backsides of the ACC. If not, Shrader probably takes the starting job by week four or five, and things either start to turn around, or it turns into a mess like 2020. I’ve got SU beating Ohio, UAlbany, and NC State this year. The first two should be because of pure talent differential, and Syracuse needs revenge after last year’s debacle against the Wolfpack.
Let’s play the biggest hypothetical game of them all. Tommy Devito will start the opening two games and flop against Rutgers, which ultimately gives the reins to Garrett Shrader. That is a condition that will guide Syracuse to a mediocre season rather than an abysmal one. Sean Tucker is going to improve in his sophomore season while the receiving core will as well. Without a clear number one, Taj Harrs and Anthony Queeley should rake in a majority of the receptions which plays to the advantage of SU.
Everything boils down to the offensive line though. If the front five can do its job, good things, or at least a better chance at a good result, will come. That being said, the O-line won’t have a stellar 2021 campaign in my opinion. They’ll do better than last year, but the sacks will be plenty. Watch for the wins to come against Ohio, Albany, Liberty (tightest game of the year) and Louisville. In the end, the ACC will run all over the Orange… again. It’s tough to pick SU over Pitt or NC State or any other close to comparable opponent because of how strong those program’s defenses are.
It really speaks to the dismal state of Syracuse’s program when you have to take a good hard look at SU’s schedule and do mental gymnastics to try and somehow award them a 3rd win, but I just couldn’t do it. This is a team that lost its chance to gain the benefit of the doubt after last season’s debacle. A program’s second one-win season since World War II tends to do that.
My main reason for lack of enthusiasm is that Syracuse has major problems regarding its players and how they fit into the team’s schemes. On offense, Dino Babers showed last year that he was willing to go down guns-a-blazin’ on the hill of his up-tempo, no-huddle system by hiring the guy who’s been with him since the beginning in OC Sterlin Gilbert. I have zero confidence in Gilbert at this point, and I think he shoulders quite a bit of blame for an offense that finished 11th worst in the nation in points scored last year. This season, Gilbert gets a full year of RB Sean Tucker and some offensive line help, but the flaws here are awfully deep.
On the other side of the ball, DC Tony White’s 3-3-5 defense showed progress toward the end of last season, but 60% of his secondary just departed for the NFL. Apart from last year’s breakout star in CB Garrett Williams, there’s new faces littered across a defensive backfield playing behind a front six that gave up 209 rushing yards per game last year. That’s a calamitous recipe if White can’t find a way to use guys like DT Josh Black and LB Mikel Jones effectively to protect his inexperienced secondary.
Syracuse has the talent to win more than two games. However, that talent is stuck in systems that can’t utilize ability to its full potential, and that’s why I can only see SU beating Ohio and UAlbany this season before dropping nine straight to end the year.