The College Football National Championship is going down next Monday night between #1 Georgia and #3 TCU. It’s the first natty appearance for the Horned Frogs since 2010. Texas Christian’s story is incredible, first-year head coach, unranked to begin the season, a Heisman finalist dual-threat quarterback, and a stingy 3-3-5 defense.
Nobody expected the TCU to make it to this stage yet here they are. Nobody expected SU to make the title game either. However, the Orange suddenly made that look possible when they began the season 6-0 and earned a top-15 ranking and had a chance for a top 10 win at Clemson. Had the ball bounced different and players not been knocked out the season, who knows what happens? This got me thinking, could Syracuse use the same formula that got the Horned Frogs to the title game?
This is the first prong of this argument. TCU deploys the multiple defense that can defend spread offenses and power offenses. The scheme mitigated the “bully ball” U of M played in the Fiesta Bowl and really confused the best offensive line in college football all afternoon long. Syracuse’s 3-3-5 was very successful under defensive coordinator Tony White, who’s now at Nebraska. It could be just as dangerous under one of its architects in new defensive coordinator Rocky Long.
The key for this defense to work, especially in the big games, is turnovers. TCU forced three Michigan giveaways in the semi-final and two of those resulted in immediate touchdowns on pick six’s. Against Clemson, the Orange forced four turnovers which really should have won them the game. Instead, SU converted a whopping six points off of those giveaways and all six of them came on Ja’Had Carter’s scoop-and-score.
So the 3-3-5 can work and take you to very high levels but it needs to be a defense based on capitalizing on other teams mistakes too. Syracuse is known as one of the best teams at forcing giveaways around the nation. This year SU ranked 59th in the nation with 19 forced turnovers which is solid but needs to be better. On top of that, the ‘Cuse needs to continue to improve its pressure.
TCU rushed 3-5 guys the entire game yet they had consistent disruption in Michigan’s backfield on passing plays and disguised blitzes very well. The Orange ranked 56th in the nation in team tackles for loss with 6.1 per game and 79 for the season. So if SU wants the 3-3-5 to be as dangerous as the Horned Frogs’ unit, it should focus on takeaways and pressure in 2023 and beyond.
This is the most important prong of all. Syracuse is not a recruiting powerhouse, we all know that. SU reels in the worst class in the ACC basically every year due to many factors. So, it’s critical that Dino Babers and Company get whatever talent they can from Florida, South Carolina, or the transfer portal and develop it. Examples include Oronde Gadsden, Garrett Williams, and Sean Tucker among many many others.
SU ranks 66th in the nation in team talent composition, according to 247sports.com. Jackson State (FCS) is right behind them at 67th which is embarassing but also a story for another time. This is metric of a compilation of Syracuse’s roster based on recruiting rankings. The Orange have (3) four-star players and (68) three-star players. Obviously this isn’t where you want to be if you want to contend for anything of worth, but the drop-off from the top to where Syracuse is, is actually not that big.
TCU checks in at 32nd in the rankings with (1) five-star, (16) four-stars, and (60) three-star players. More importantly, some of the Horned Frogs’ top talent was not highly regarded out of high school. TCU’s backup running back who took 17 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown, Emari Demercado, was a lowly three-star. Additionally, TCU’s starting quarterback, Max Duggan, was a low four-star and of similar stature and skill level of Garrett Shrader.
On top of that, the Horned Frogs’ starting running back, Kendre Miller, was a low three-star and a linebacker recruit out of high school. For the cherry on top, Texas Christian’s award winning corner, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and top defensive lineman, Dylan Horton, were both low three-stars that the program developed. See what we’re getting at here?
TCU’s best talent that led it to the national championship game was underrated and under-recruited talent. Syracuse gets talent of a similar stature coming out of high school. SU has also shown it can develop that kind of talent to elite status. The Orange need to continue to do that if they want to really make some noise in college football.
This is really the key here because Syracuse has the 3-3-5 defense and it has the development for the most part. What SU hasn’t had lately is a consistent offense that produces each and every Saturday. The Orange aided its issues this past year with improvement in the passing game but it only bumped its win total from 5 to 7.
If you watched TCU play, you saw a dual-threat quarterback who played like there was no tomorrow in Max Duggan (Eric Dungey), a bulling ball running back who could run you over and make you miss in Kendre Miller (Sean Tucker), and a speed demon receiver who could hurt you from anywhere on the field in Quentin Johnston (Oronde Gadsden).
Syracuse signed its new offensive coordinator, Jason Beck, ahead of the bowl game. Beck’s first time running the show was solid against Minnesota. SU racked up 477 total yards with 27 first downs and was 7-16 on third down with 330 passing yards. Those numbers are good enough to win the game but Syracuse lost 28-20 for a plethora of other reasons.
SU needs Garrett Shrader to return for starters because his game is comparable to Duggan’s. It also needs to find its next dynamic running back either in LeQuint Allen or via the transfer portal. On top of that, the Orange need another dynamic receiver on the outside. Gadsden was WR1 this season but he’s technically a tight end. With a good offseason, Damien Alford really has the chance to emulate Johnston’s game to a certain extent. The Canadien is big, long, and fast and really emerged down the final stretch of the season.
Dynamic offense, development, and a stingy 3-3-5 defense is the formula for Syracuse to find its way to the national championship game. Now of course a lot of things would have to bounce the right way for this to work. TCU won several close games this year (taker the semi-final for example) and continued to build momentum week after week while avoiding injuries. This is a recipe that is possible for SU to use in the kitchen to cook up a title contender.