UPDATE 12/14/21: Just minutes after this article was published, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. committed to play at Washington.
With early signing day set for tomorrow, Syracuse football is now well entrenched in its retooling phase ahead of 2022. The Orange overachieved last year, but now face difficult choices when it comes to personnel. Tomorrow‚Äôs new recruits will help ease the vacancies left by this year‚Äôs graduates and transfers.
Speaking of transfers, the portal has giveth and taketh away from SU over the past two years or so. Syracuse scored big in 2020 when they snagged defensive end Cody Roscoe from McNeese State and Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader ahead of 2021, but lost former starting quarterback Tommy DeVito this year, among others.
It‚Äôs worth wondering now whether or not Syracuse should try and pursue another quarterback in this year‚Äôs transfer portal crop. DeVito is gone and Shrader proved himself to be a Division I starting quarterback, albeit one who may not quite have the arm talent caliber needed for the ACC. The QBs on the market right now are an unusually deep group, so it‚Äôs worth identifying a few names SU would benefit from at least trying to get.
Zach Calzada (2021 SOPH, 6‚Äô4‚Äù 210 lbs) (2021 SCHOOL: Texas A&M)
For sheer arm talent and potential upside, it‚Äôs hard to find a more impressive quarterback in this transfer group than Texas A&M‚Äôs Zach Calzada. The 2021 sophomore‚Äôs highlights show a great arm, but he‚Äôs able to put touch on the ball when he needs to. Calzada started 10 games this season for the Aggies after opening day starter Haynes King went down with an injury in the team‚Äôs second week. Calzada ended up throwing for 2,185 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine picks against SEC competition and within head coach Jimbo Fisher‚Äôs offense that has been criticized for being too complicated. Oh, and don‚Äôt forget that one of those 10 starts came against Alabama: all Calzada did was throw for 285 yards and three scores in an upset victory.
Obviously, this is a player SU would have to work pretty hard to get. Calzada has plenty of eligibility left, but he isn‚Äôt much of a natural runner and doesn‚Äôt tick that box for ‚ÄòCuse‚Äôs offense. Dino Babers also doesn‚Äôt have any connection to Calzada‚Äôs native Georgia or schools in Texas. Plus, there‚Äôs no doubt other higher caliber programs took notice of Calzada‚Äôs play this year. But hey, one can only dream, right?
Adrian Martinez (2021 JR, 6‚Äô2‚Äù 220) (2021 SCHOOL: Nebraska)
The old joke is that Nebraska seems like it‚Äôs had a Martinez playing quarterback for about 15 years now. That, coupled with the fact that Nebraska has done virtually nothing since its ill-fated move to the Big 10, means that Adrian Martinez might be flying under your radar. Martinez is transferring after four years starting at Nebraska, and although his career passing stats may not thrill you (45 TDs, 30 INT), he has a dual-threat pedigree (2,301 career rush yards and 35 TDs) that has shown through even on a team that has gone 15-29 in four years under head coach Scott Frost‚Äôs tutelage.
On the other hand, Martinez‚Äôs limited remaining eligibility (one season) and inconsistency-plagued play at UNL are reasons SU may want to hesitate before it kicks the tires on him. Martinez would be a stopgap at best before a younger player would step up in 2023 – perhaps JaCobian Morgan – but he‚Äôd be able to finish his career in a new environment away from the ferocious Big 10 defenses that have eaten Nebraska for lunch over the course of his career.
Michael Penix Jr. (2021 JR, 6‚Äô3‚Äù 218) (2021 SCHOOL: Indiana)
Penix is the second Big 10 quarterback on our list and might be the biggest wild card of the bunch. Last year, Penix looked like a surefire up-and-coming star in the Big 10 after throwing 14 touchdowns and 1,645 yards in eight games during IU‚Äôs COVID-abbreviated 2020 season. The Hoosiers came within a last-second goalpost move of potentially making an appearance in the College Football Playoff, and Penix was a huge part of a year that saw the program exorcize longtime demons against Penn State and Michigan.
However, Penix and the Hoosiers suffered through a nightmare 2021 season not unlike what Syracuse endured in 2020. Thanks mostly to a team-wide 18 season ending injuries, IU‚Äôs defense plummeted from 20th in the nation to 110th, and the team was forced to play four different quarterbacks. Things got so dire that a walk-on was thrown under center against Ohio State.
Even before separating his shoulder against Penn State, Penix didn‚Äôt look like himself. After he spent 2020 deftly avoiding pressure and fitting throws into tight windows, Penix slid backward into bad habits and footwork almost immediately and finished the year with four touchdowns, seven picks, and three games (out of five) with completion percentages under 50%.
That‚Äôs where the conflict may come in for SU. Penix is clearly talented enough to play at a high level and did so in 2020 against strong competition while succeeding at a program of similar caliber to SU, but he collapsed in 2021 with a bad team around him and has suffered season ending injuries in every season he‚Äôs played at IU. It would be a bold and interesting move if ‚ÄòCuse attempted to pursue Penix, with the pitch potentially focusing on Sean Tucker in the backfield and an improved line to protect him. Dino Babers has also tapped into Penix‚Äôs native Florida for recruiting in the past and this year.
In any event, it would do Syracuse some good to do their due diligence on any one of these quarterbacks, and they‚Äôre not the only ones out there. A move (or lack thereof) will show how hard Dino Babers wants to use the portal for an infusion of talent to potentially make Garrett Shrader compete for his starting job.