The Three Biggest Questions for Syracuse Football Heading into 2021
Just twelve days remain until toe meets leather in Athens, Ohio, when Syracuse travels to meet the Ohio Bobcats. SU has a lot of questions to answer after a 1-10 season in 2020, the program’s worst since 2005. Here are the three biggest unknowns Dino Babers and Company need to answer in less than two weeks.
Who Starts Under Center?
This has been the talk of the entire offseason. Ever since Garrett Shrader transferred in from Mississippi State back in the winter, people have hypothesized how the SU offense could transform. The former four-star recruit is a dual-threat quarterback many believe has a skill set similar to former Syracuse slinger Eric Dungey. So there’s a part of ‘Cuse Nation' that is pleading for Shrader to get the nod, but there’s also Tommy DeVito.
The New Jersey native enters his fifth season on the Hill which obviously gives him the experience advantage. Like Shrader, DeVito is also a former four-star recruit that certainly doesn’t lack pedigree but has yet to break out as SU’s starting quarterback. The redshirt-junior was tabbed the opening day starter in both 2019 and 2020 but has not completed a full season due to injuries.
So there’s the “new hotness” in Shrader that brings some flare to a stagnant offense over the past few seasons. On the other hand, there’s the incumbent in DeVito. This battle figures to be won in the final weeks of fall camp, but a lot is riding on this decision and it could tell the tale of the season.
Will the Offensive Line Improve?
Who starts at quarterback may not matter if Syracuse can’t compete in the trenches. The Orange’s front five ranked last in the ACC last season in sack percentage rate at 10.9%, according to Football Outsiders. In other words, SU allows opposing defenders to get to the quarterback every ten plays.
All members of last year’s starting line are back and Florida transfer Chris Bleich is eligible after sitting out the 2020 season. There are plenty of options for Babers and new offensive line coach Mike Schmidt. Now what the two coaches need to do is pick the best combination and positive returns should follow.
Can the Young Secondary Replace the NFL Talent?
Syracuse was well represented at the NFL Draft back in April. Always great to see former Orange athletes reach the next level, but that means there are massive holes to fill. Safety Andre Cisco was selected in the third round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu was also taken in the third round by the Detroit Lions. Fellow defensive back Trill Williams signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Miami Dolphins.
The veteran presence of the three talented defensive backs will surely be missed, but Syracuse had an opportunity to break in young players in 2020 due to injuries. After being thrown in the fire, all the young talent from last season is back.
The group also benefited from a complete offseason of weight training and development in defensive coordinator Tony White’s 3-3-5 scheme. Can the secondary continue to be disruptive and shut down opposing aerial attacks or could there be a step back after losing talent to the NFL?
All of these questions will be addressed in the 2021 season for better or worse. The answers may begin to surface on September 4th when the Orange clash with the Bobcats. Be sure to tune into 88.3 FM at 6 p.m. for Countdown to Kickoff, followed by the game at 7.