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Sports

Previewing 2021 Syracuse Football’s First Six Opponents

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Cuse Athletics
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Syracuse’s 2021 football season begins in less than two weeks, and with it comes a chance to put the 1-10 2020 season firmly in the past. In order to do that though, the Orange will have to get off to a good start. So, here is a breakdown of the teams that SU will lineup against in the first half of the new season.

Ohio University

The Bobcats don’t provide a ton of information to go from after only playing three games last season, going 2-1 in the Mid-American Conference. The offense is led by a quarterback duo of redshirt sophomore Kurtis Rourke and redshirt fifth year Armani Rodgers. The receiving corps is headlined by redshirt senior Isiah Cox, who averaged over 20 yards per catch last season and led the team averaging 17 yards per catch in 2019. In the backfield, De’Montre Tuggle is a star for the Bobcats. The redshirt fifth year recorded seven touchdowns in 2020 and ran for 403 yards in just three games. Defensively, the Bobcats lack pass rushers after coming up with just four sacks in three games last year. Redshirt junior safety Jamison Collier leads the way in the secondary after finishing with a team-high 19 tackles in 2020.

Rutgers University

For the Scarlet Knights, 2020 marked the return of head coach Greg Schiano and the team’s best season since first joining the Big Ten in 2015, finishing with a record of 3-6. Schiano coached Rutgers from 2001 to 2011, turning around a program that had just four winning seasons since 1980, into one that was ranked seventh in the national AP Poll in 2006 and won five bowl games in six tries. Now that he’s back, the offense has seen the biggest boost in production. In just nine games, the 2020 Scarlet Knights scored more points than any previous version of the team since 2015. Senior Noah Vedral is slated to get the most reps at quarterback, after throwing for 1,253 yards and just nine touchdowns to eight interceptions in 2020. Junior running back Isaih Pacheco and senior receiver Bo Melton are the keys to the Rutgers offense. Pacheco ran for just over 500 yards and three touchdowns last season, but will get the bulk of the carries this coming season behind an improved offensive line. Melton meanwhile was the team’s leading receiver last year with 638 yards and six scores on 47 catches. The defense struggled last season, allowing 32 points per game last season. The Scarlet Knights have a real strength at the linebacker position though. 6-2, 240-pound senior Olakunle Fatukasi led the team with 101 tackles in 2020, while 245-pound senior Tyshon Fogg finished second with 65 tackles last year, and led the team with 96 in 2019.

UAlbany

The Great Danes didn’t play in the fall of 2020, instead holding their season in the spring of 2021, where they went 1-3 before ending the year prematurely due to a horde of injuries. The team’s last full season in 2019 was a good one, the Great Danes went 9-5 and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs behind an explosive offense. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler and All-America senior running back Karl Mofor are the standout players. Undercuffler threw a school-record 41 touchdown passes in 2019, while Mofor ran for 1,270 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Mike Gray and redshirt sophomore Tyler Oedekoven are expected to be the leading receivers. On defense, the Great Danes have some experienced players to rely on. The defensive line features redshirt junior Mazon Walker and redshirt senior Ibn Foster, while All-CAA redshirt junior Danny Damico returns at linebacker. Senior safety Tyler Carswell also brings a veteran presence to the secondary. There’s some exciting young blood on the line as well, in the 2020 CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year, redshirt freshman Jared Verse. Verse led the CAA in tackles for a loss last season with ten, and was tied for second in the CAA with four sacks.

Liberty University

         The 2020 season was one of the best ever for Flames football, finishing the year 10-1 and winning the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl over Coastal Carolina. The offense was the team’s biggest strength, averaging 483 yards and 38 points per game, and it should be a strength again this season with most of the personnel returning. Redshirt junior quarterback Malik Willis is one of the best dual-threat playmakers in the country, after leading the team with 944 rushing yards and 14 scores in 2020. Redshirt senior running back Joshua Mack is also returning after nearly 800 yards on the ground and four touchdowns last season. The offensive line helped the rushing attack averaged over 250 yards per game, and all five starters are expected to return. In addition to that, eight of the team’s nine receivers from last year are returning. The defense finished last season ranked as the 11th best in the nation, and similar to the offense, almost every impact player is back. Junior Durrell Johnson and sophomore TreShaun Clark are back on the line after combining for 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss, while the 300-pound senior Elijah James and 325-pound redshirt senior Ralfs Rusins also return. Junior safety Javon Scruggs led the team with 69 tackles last year to go along with three forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions, and headlines the team’s back seven.

Florida State University

The Seminoles are the first ACC opponent that the Orange will see this fall, and they’re coming off a disappointing 3-6 season. Offensively, the team was pretty average under new head coach Mike Norvell, sitting at about 400 yards and 25 points per game, and there are plenty of questions coming into this year. There’s a hole at quarterback due to the former starter, redshirt junior James Blackman, transferring to Arkansas State. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis will have the chance to fill the void after leading the team with 559 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, but his passing was hit-or-miss, as shown by his six passing touchdowns to six interceptions. Redshirt senior Mckenzie Milton will also get a shot under center, but the UCF transfer hasn’t played in a game since suffering a right knee injury in 2018. Before the injury, Milton was a two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year. Redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin led all running backs with 401 yards and five scores and is returning for this season. Redshirt junior and leading receiver Ontaria Wilson is also back after catching 31 passes in 2020. Defense was FSU’s biggest weakness last year, after finishing dead last in the ACC in sacks and allowing 36 points per game. Redshirt freshman Derrick McLendon II led all defensive lineman in tackles for loss with just 2.5. The linebacker position is a bit stronger, redshirt sophomore Amari Gainer led the team with 65 tackles. The secondary picked off just eight passes in 2020, and five of those have been lost to the transfer portal.

Wake Forest University

         Last season was an up and down one for the Demon Deacons, finishing at 4-5 including a 42-28 loss to Wisconsin in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Redshirt sophomore Sam Hartman took sole ownership of the quarterback position in 2020, finishing top 30 in the nation in passing yards with 2,224, and tossing 13 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Redshirt junior Jaquarri Roberson headlines the receiving corps after leading the team with 62 catches and eight touchdowns, while redshirt freshmen Donavon Greene and Taylor Morin, with redshirt sophomore A.T. Perry, round out the group. The running game took a hit with junior Kenneth Walker III and his 13 touchdowns transferring to Michigan State. Filling in will be redshirt junior Christian Beal-Smith and freshman Justice Ellison, who combined for 845 rushing yards and six touchdowns last year. The defense struggled, allowing 436 yards and 33 points per game, and it lost two key playmakers. Top pass rusher and one of the best defenders in the country Carlos Basham is gone to the NFL, while linebacker and leading tackler Ja’Cquez Williams has graduated. Redshirt senior Miles Fox will fill in for Basham on the line after leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss in 2020, and junior Ryan Smenda Jr. should become the top linebacker after finishing third on the team with 52 tackles. Every starter in the secondary is expected to be back, including freshman standout Nick Anderson. The defensive back recorded 63 tackles and grabbed four interceptions last year.