Previewing 2021 Syracuse Football’s Last Six Opponents
With just over a week to go until Syracuse kicks off its football season, it’s time to look toward the road ahead for the Orange as they enter year six under Dino Babers. WAER is previewing SU’s 2021 schedule, and you can read the first part of this series here.
The Clemson Tigers come to the Dome for a midseason matchup to kick off SU’s second half of the season. Dabo Swinney’s squad was ranked No. 1 in the nation into November last year before a loss to Notre Dame knocked them down a few spots. Ultimately, the Tigers finished No. 3 in the nation after a playoff loss to Ohio State. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne are gone, but experienced newcomers in D.J. Uiagalelei (914 passing yards, 5 touchdown passes) and Lyn-J Dixon (42 carries, 190 yards, 2 touchdowns) are primed to step in and produce. Clemson continues to be the cream of the ACC Atlantic crop, but it would be unwise to completely write off the Orange. Syracuse scored an upset win over Clemson in 2017 and has historically played the Tigers comparatively well under Dino Babers.
A late October trip to Blacksburg is what awaits the Orange after their Clemson matchup. Syracuse and VT square off this season for just the second time since 2003 (SU won 31-17 in 2016). Justin Fuente is back as head coach of the Hokies after last year’s 5-6 season, and he has challenging depth questions to face. 2020’s leading passer Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee this January, while last year’s leading rusher in Khalil Herbert was selected in the 6th round of this year’s draft by the Chicago Bears. New backs Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner now step up behind quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who threw for almost 700 yards last year in limited time. Scoring points will matter more for the Hokies, who gave up 32.1 points per game last season and lost plenty of pieces on that side of the ball, namely NFL 1st-round draftee in cornerback Caleb Farley.
The Eagles scored a winning record in 2020 under first-year head coach Jeff Haffley with a 7-6 mark that included a late-season 16-13 win over Syracuse. The team brings back 20 starters from last season, including quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who is back for his redshirt-junior season firmly penciled in as BC’s starter after throwing for 2,558 yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his first season on Chestnut Hill. Junior wideout Zay Flowers now becomes Jurkovec’s most important target after 2020’s reception leader in tight end Hunter Long was drafted this Spring, but Flowers is well-equipped to step into a leading role after snagging 56 catches for 892 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. On defense, the Eagles bring back both their defensive ends in Brandon Barlow and Marcus Valdez, but they’ll be forced to play in front of a suddenly inexperienced linebacking corps. Linebackers Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie both departed for the NFL, leaving a question mark in the middle of BC’s 4-2-5 defense.
If you had just tuned in to watch Louisville’s 30-0 throttling of Syracuse last season, you likely wouldn’t believe the Cardinals went just 4-7 in 2020. It was a surprising plunge for third-year head coach Scott Satterfield, and he now mans play-calling duties of the Louisville offense after offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford left to become the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line coach. Satterfield’s task is a daunting one. He has to coax better play out of redshirt-junior quarterback Malik Cunningham following last year’s 15-turnover backslide and hope the receiving corps can replace Tutu Atwell (drafted) and Dez Fitzpatrick (graduated), who combined for 10 touchdown grabs in 2020. Defensively, the Cardinals bring back a strong unit that includes experienced players in defensive ends YaYa Diaby and Tabarius Peterson along with star linebacker C.J. Avery, who racked up 78 tackles and two sacks in 2020. However, the secondary wasn’t quite so fortunate. After leading the ACC in pass defense last season, the Cardinals lost three starters. The unit now has to pin its hopes on transfers, namely former Liberty cornerback Kei’Trel Clark and ex-Georgia Southern free safety Kenderick Duncan.
NC State pulled off one of the nation’s more impressive turnarounds in 2020, reversing their win total from 4-8 in 2019 to 8-4 in 2020. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck worked wonders in his first year with the Wolfpack, and State went from the 107th ranked scoring offense in FBS to averaging 30.2 points per game. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Devin Leary now has the chance to start consistently after injuries and COVID issues wiped out most of his 2020 season. With last year’s starter Bailey Hockman now at Middle Tennessee State, the time is now for Leary to excel. Wideout Emeka Emezie returns this season after snaring a team-leading 47 catches for 738 yards and five touchdowns in 2020, and he joins running backs Zonovan “Bam” Knight and Ricky Person Jr. as potent threats on the Wolfpack offense. On defense, linebacker Payton Wilson led the ACC in tackles with 108 and returns for another year in 2021. Nine starters on NC State’s defensive unit return this season.
Barring a bowl appearance, Syracuse’s season ends on November 27th when Pittsburgh visits the dome. Pitt entered last season with a lot of buzz, and a 3-0 start validated the excitement. However, back-to-back one-point losses to NC State and BC rattled the Panthers’ season, and it never fully recovered on the way to a 6-5 finish. If Pittsburgh goes any further this year, things likely ride on the arm of fifth-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who accounted for 21 total touchdowns in 2020. Pickett wasn’t helped last year by a dismal ground game that ranked 111th in the nation and averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Junior back Vincent Davis led the team with 632 yards, and he’s back in 2021. Beyond Davis, the running back spot is a series of unknowns for the Panthers. At receiver, sophomore Jordan Addison hopes to build on an electrifying 60-catch, 600 plus yard freshman campaign that netted him ACC Rookie of the Year runner-up distinction. Defensively, the Panthers mauled the opposition last year to the tune of 46 sacks, but they lost their two leading sack-men in defensive ends Patrick Jones II (9.0) and Rashad Weaver (7.5) along with talented safeties in Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford. Though some depth was lost, a solid defense is always a good bet to hedge with a team coached by Pat Narduzzi.