Men’s basketball season is officially under way in Syracuse. Much like the Syracuse winter winds that always seem to blow whichever way you’re facing, the renewed focus on Jim Boeheim’s squad has taken just about all the attention away from SU football. It’s par for the course, considering the former is playing and the latter ended its season by tripping over its own feet with a bowl berth on the line 10 days ago.
Head coach Dino Babers is probably glad to get a break from all the questions that peppered him throughout his sixth season, whether they were about the lack of a special teams coordinator (now filled), his own job (seemingly stable), or why quarterback Garrett Shrader regularly finished with stat lines similar to what Mac Jones put up last night (still undetermined). Now that we’re in the offseason, the scrutiny machine has been turned off. However, there’s an issue at hand that bears addressing as SU enters the winter.
Running back and special teams captain Cooper Lutz’ announcement to enter the transfer portal yesterday came as a bit of a surprise, but should it have? Lutz led the special teams unit in tackles but only touched the ball 21 times on offense all season behind now-program record holding running back Sean Tucker. It’s unlikely Lutz comes back, but his mere entry into the portal makes him the fourteenth Syracuse player since August to do so. The number, combined with a slew of graduating contributors, means that next year’s squad will look pretty different.
There’s no simmering controversy (like we later found out about SU women’s basketball) that explains the large number of transfers. Instead, players are exercising their right to go places where their contributions have the most visibility. Throw in the NCAA’s appropriate post-COVID nullification of eligibility forfeiture, and players are more likely than ever to seek greener pastures. Wideout Taj Harris, defensive lineman Curtis Harper, and linebacker Geoff Cantin-Arku are a few of SU’s bigger names who waved goodbye this season. Feel happy for the players, but feel worried about Syracuse and programs of similar caliber. The high degree of turnover is putting a team with already shaky depth in rough territory.
Even if the transfer portal didn’t exist, SU is staring down a particularly painful number of contributors that are graduating this Spring. Running back Abdul Adams’ departure now further weakens the team’s backfield depth, while the entire starting defensive line – Cody Roscoe, McKinley Williams, Josh Black, and Kingsley Jonathan – is leaving as well. Oh, and throw in former Lou Groza award-winning kicker Andre Szmyt in that mix, too.
Couple these problems with a 2022 recruiting class that has sunk to 14th in the ACC and 75th in the nation – thanks partly to three-star defensive lineman Q’yaeir Price flipping to Rutgers, of all places – and it’s not hard to see the challenge Dino Babers is up against next season. In year number seven, the team has been built squarely out of Babers’ guys. Further success now hinges how much he can get out of those who still remain by next September.