2021 ACC Kickoff Event Offers A Preview of What to Watch
The 2021 ACC Kickoff event has come and gone, now all the attention turns to fall camp and week one of the college football season. Top to the bottom, the Atlantic Coast Conference should be very competitive this year. Clemson returns as the reigning champ of the Atlantic, but the Coastal is once again up for grabs.
The outlook on several programs across the conference is that they’ll compete for championships and players took the podium with confidence and optimism. Syracuse on the other hand didn’t get the kind of attention the other teams did after a 5-7 record in 2019 and a 1-10 record in 2020.
Team Mentality Heading into the Season
It seems the flare of the ten win season back in 2018 has worn off around the media. Instead of dodging questions about the disappointment of last year, the SU representatives met the criticism head. Super senior Josh Black says he decided to return to the Hill because of what happened last
“One of the main reasons I came back was to lead this team. I’m not going to get up here and lie to everybody about what happened last year. I put a lot of responsibility for our season last year on myself personally just for not fulfilling the role that I needed to be. I need to be a leader throughout the entire team.”
Leadership seemed to be the biggest theme between all three of Syracuse student-athletes Black, Taj Harris, and Airon Servais. Black and Servais were two of several veteran players on the SU roster that could’ve tried their hands at professional football. Instead, everybody decided to come back. Head Coach Dino Babers says those decisions were major for his football team and its attitude entering the 2021 season.
“When I talk about Josh Black and I talk about Airon Servais, there’s no doubt that they’re leaders on our football team, but the thing I really do appreciate about that class is that the six super seniors, they’re coming back to help lead this team and to have the redemption from last year.”
The leadership the vets will provide is of course pivotal for this season, but Babers says it’s even more important for the future of the program.
“There’s no way we’d be able to bridge the youth on this football team with the season that we’re going to have and trying to have without the super seniors coming back… They decided to come back because something didn’t feel right with them and their attitude is the attitude that I want to radiate not only throughout the football team, but throughout the staff and throughout the community.”
The Syracuse front five has struggled in recent history. SU allowed 38 sacks in just eleven games for an average of 3.45 per contest. That ranked 118th out of 127 FBS teams last year and set the worst mark in the ACC.
Babers says the Orange were dealt a unique hand in 2020 and fought through a lot of adversity.
“We need to call it exactly what it is. We had major injuries, a domino effect of injuries in the offensive line and most of them not on the football field, most of them happening walking around campus just fluke things.”
Due to the injuries entering last season, fullback/h-back Chris Elmore had to play emergency left guard for the Orange. Despite the struggles up front and all the things that the Orange had to deal with, Babers says things need to change.
“We aren’t happy with those numbers, there’s no doubt about that and that needs to change… We’ve had some changes and we’ve got some different coaches at some different positions, but I think the main difference is that those guys are healthy and we’re not going to be having a rotation of some younger guys with some older guys. We’ll have an older group and they’ll be ready to go.”
Syracuse returns a bulk of its front five including Matthew Bergeron at left tackle, Dakota Davis at guard, Carlos Vettorello at center, and Airon Servais at right tackle. There are plenty of experienced options for the other guard spot.
Assessment of Past Five Years
It’s been an up and down tenure for Babers. The Orange have experienced the highs of the 10-3 season just three years ago, but also the lows with just six combined wins in their last 23 games. The thing that the Hawaii native doesn’t want is exactly that, the wild highs and the woeful lows.
“The thing that I really want is consistency. I want to be consistently good, not occasionally great. If we can find that consistency then I think we can find that support and foundation that we need. Not only for the university but also for the community. It’s really important to me that they have a football team they can be proud of.”
Name, image, and likeness was a hot topic at the ACC Kickoff. Several players have already signed deals with companies and begun to make money. Babers said he was excited for the opportunity for his players and has used NIL as an opportunity to teach.
“One of the first things I said in the team meeting is I’m gonna teach you guys about contracts and what happens when you sign your name to something and it’s legally binding. Just to make sure that when they’re going out there and they’re exercising their right to some of these opportunities, they’re not getting tied up in a situation where it could cost them later.”
Babers said there will be three classes to help the players with their brand. Consultation for representation will also be made available to players that want it and want to explore the realm of NIL. Babers recognizes some schools are further ahead and have been more progressive in their approach to the new regulations, but he believes SU is coming along slowly but surely.
“Once it gets going, the state of New York is a big state and has a lot of people. I’m sure there’s enough name, image, and likeness for everyone.”
On the Difference Fans Have in Football and Return of Fans to the ‘Loud House’
There was an element missing to Syracuse Football and the sport as a whole, the players are very excited to welcome supporters back to their respective stadiums. Black says the fans play a big factor in football games.
“Just feeding off the energy of the fans itself just makes a huge difference based on adrenaline and getting ready to run out the tunnel. That’s where you get all your energy from. The fans are electric especially in the Dome. Not having the fans last year was a little bit different. The fans are what we feed off; we're known as the Loud House for a reason.”
Syracuse opens up the 2021 season on the road at Ohio on Saturday, September 4th. Be sure to follow @waersports for continued offseason coverage of SU Football.