“We’ve got the majority of this football team coming back, and with some additions I think that we can be extremely different and exciting in 2022.”
That’s what SU Head Coach Dino Babers had to say following his team’s seventh loss to conclude the 2021 season. Now obviously a coach would say that after a third consecutive losing campaign. Now that we’ve progressed into February and both signing days have come and gone, it’s time to rewind and give coach credit. This Syracuse program looks to be in a much better spot in the matter of a few months and may have a team that could make some noise in the ACC.
What Have Babers and Company done to build their roster? Attack relentlessly in the coaching carousel, on the recruiting trail, and in the transfer portal. In case you missed everything, here are the moves that were made that have this program garnering momentum.
A few Syracuse players had their futures up in the air following the conclusion of the 2021 campaign. Linebacker Mikel Jones was 50/50 between returning and heading to the NFL. The stud from IMG Academy elected to return. The rumors were a bit outlandish but the possibility of Sean Tucker exiting to play from a big time program was there.
The speedster instead decided to join the ‘Cuse track and field squad and stay with the team. The same could have been said about Duce Chestnut after a freshman All-American season. Each of these three prolific talents are back for the Orange.
Massive Adds in the Transfer Portal
A place like Syracuse is a perfect spot to dominate in the portal. Whether it be former big time recruits seeking a change of scenery, or a JUCO/D2/D3/Group of 5 transfer hoping to take a step up in competition level and play on bigger stages, the Salt City is a great option. The Orange compete in the power five, draw NFL attention, and in certain situations could offer immediate playing time.
SU used its enticing pitch to snag serious talents like DB Bralyn Oliver (Louisville), RB Juwaun Price (New Mexico State), WR CJ Hayes (Michigan State), DB Alijah Clark (Rutgers), and most recently CB Isaiah Johnson (Dartmouth). amongst others. All five of these players can start right away or will start in a few seasons. More importantly, each of these transfers have the potential to make an impact and aren’t simply just a throwaway scholarship.
Syracuse racked up the 49th best transfer portal class with seven commits. The Orange rank 7th in the ACC with that class.
Strong Finish on the Trail
While Syracuse has the chance to clean up in portal, recruiting out of high school is a different story. Aside from the lure to early playing time, the pitch runs pretty dry. Inches on inches of snow, perennial bottom-feeder in the ACC, old facilities, the list goes on. The point is that it’s very difficult to attract top national talent to the 315. However, Babers and his staff offset some of those problems by hammering the talent hotbeds.
SU reeled in six players from Florida which is the most of any state in the class. The targeted approach yielded studs like 3/4 star DE Francois Nolton, 3 star LB Mekhi Mason, 3 star CB Jeremiah Wilson, Georgia Tech flip Gregory Delaine Jr., and 3 star DL Belizaire Bassett.
Most of these players were looked at my big time programs and even offered but by the end of the cycle were passed over. This is where Syracuse can pounce and that’s what they do perennially. The Sunshine state has provided the most recruits too ‘Cuse in each of Babers’ recruiting classes but one (2020).
Great Hires in the Carousel
“This football team that we just played, they’re a good run stop defense. But what they were giving us was massive throws all over the football field which we need to be able to take advantage of.”
That’s what Babers had to say following the loss to Pitt. The Panthers held Sean Tucker to a season low of 29 yards. Obviously that means that Pat Narduzzi’s team was loading up the box and probably playing a lot of zero coverage. With a quarterback that can pass the ball with purpose and efficiency, it should be easy for an offense to move the ball. However, Garrett Shrader really never showed the consistency needed in the aerial attack. So what does SU do to improve? Rather than get a new gunslinger, they snag some new coaches.
The Syracuse offense was abysmal under former OC Sterlin Gilbert. The Orange were the worst offense in the ACC in his two seasons of leadership. So SU swung big and stole some talented pioneers from fellow conference team Virginia. Robert Anae (OC) and Jason Beck (QBs) have been on the staff for a few months now and aim to enhance the offense. They both had a lot of success under former UVA head man Bronco Mendenhall both in Charlottesville and Provo with BYU.
There’a also the recent hiring of Michael Johnson Sr. to fill the wide receivers opening. The veteran has coached at several big programs and served as the co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at Florida Atlantic. Johnson has also spent time as the OC at UCLA and wideouts coach at Oregon. This was a great way to Syracuse to snag its tenth and final assistant coach and Johnson should be a great asset on the sideline.
This has been said repeatedly but 2022 has to be Babers’ make it or break it year. The seventh-year head coach has mustered one winning season in his time on the Hill. He coined last season as “a bridge year.” That has to mean that this fall is the landing on the island that has Syracuse at the very least back in a bowl game. From a bird’s eye view, this team has added the pieces necessary to shock some people in six months.
Syracuse opens its season against Louisville on September 3rd in the Dome.