2018 was a standout year for the Syracuse Orange football program. For a long time, football has been the poor relation to basketball in the New York State city. However, last year, football crept out from behind the basketball shadow and in to the national spotlight.
Under head coach Dino Babers, and behind quarterback Eric Dungey, the Orangemen had their best season since 2001. It was a season build on offensive excellence. With Dungey, Sean Riley, and Jamal Custis, the Syracuse offence put up 50+ points in 5 games. They averaged over 40 points per game, good enough for 11th in the nation.
The Orange raced out to a 4-0 record. In among some easy games, was an in conference win over FSU. Then came two tight defeats, including a heart-breaking loss to Clemson. After Eric Dungey had put Syracuse in position for a surprise win, Travis Etienne dragged Clemson back in to contention. With just 0:41 left on the clock, Etienne delivered a devastating blow to give Clemson a 27-23 victory. Another four straight wins saw the Orangemen ranked 12 in the AP rankings.
Their final defeat of the year would come to Notre Dame. Of the three losses suffered in the season, two were to teams that would contest the College Football playoffs. With a 9-3 record, 2018 was only the third winning season since 2001. In addition, Syracuse were going bowling once more!
The Camping World Bowl saw them matched up against West Virginia. Both teams would be losing their quarterback to the NFL Draft. Whereas Will Grier was absent from the game, Eric Dungey wanted to go out on a high. He put up over 300 yards and added a touchdown to give Syracuse a 34-18 win.
2019 brings a new season, a new team, and new uniforms…
It’s a new look all around for 2019. A number of key players from the successful 2018 season are gone. Defensive tackle, Chris Slayton, was the only player taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. His play last season allowed Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman to shine on the Syracuse defensive line. Despite his loss, you can still expect a big year in 2019 from these two playmakers on defence.
Syracuse also lost star linebacker Ryan Guthrie at the end of 2018. They had hoped to return Shyheim Cullen to the heart of the defence. However, it was announced this week that Cullen will be a part of the supplemental draft. As such, Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams will be set to feature prominently. However they could face competition from a pair of 4* recruits in Mikel Jones and Lee Kpogba.
The successful offence that guided Syracuse to their best season in 17 years will be remade too. Gone are Dungey and Custis. The workload left by Custis will be picked up by the do it all, Sean Riley, and Nykeim Johnson. Johnson is set to be one of the most exciting receivers in the ACC this year. The pillars of the offensive line are gone too. Koda Martin and Cody Conway were picked up as undrafted free agents by the LA Chargers and Tennessee Titans respectively.
Three key players to watch…
#13 Tommy DeVito – Quarterback
After four remarkable years as the face of Syracuse football, Eric Dungey is no more. Naturally, all eyes turn now to his replacement. The future of the Orangemen is in the hands of redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito.
They’re good hands to be in. More importantly, those hands are attached to a good arm. This was evidenced on a 42 yard, game tying, touchdown pass to Nykeim Johnson in last season’s overtime win over North Carolina. After tying the game, DeVito led Syracuse to an overtime win with a 4 yard touchdown pass to Ravian Pierce. Where DeVito will need to improve is in the ground game. As he came out of high school, DeVito was ranked as the 8th best pocket passer in the 2017 recruiting class. However, Dungey has contributed as much with his legs as he has with his arms. This is an area where DeVito will need to improve in order for Syracuse to succeed as he posted negative yardage on 23 rushing attempts in 2018.
He made eight appearances in relief of Dungey last year and those gave Syracuse fans cause for hope. In the games against UNC and FSU he was instrumental in getting the win. His performance against FSU earned him ACC Freshman of the Week honours. If he can consistently turn in those performances, Syracuse will be a force in the ACC.
#19 Andre Cisco – Defensive Back
Andre Cisco is set to shine in 2019. The sophomore out of IMG Academy, Florida may well be the best free safety in the ACC this year. He combines good speed with exceptional awareness and anticipation to provide a consistent play making threat in the defensive backfield. The kid can tackle too.
However, his key skill is getting to the football. Cisco tied the nation in interceptions in 2018. He kick started his freshman campaign with an interception in his very first game and added another six along the way. His 18 passes defended tied for the most in the nation too.
Cisco’s performances in 2018 earned him a unanimous All-American honour which was the first time a Syracuse player had earned that accolade as a true freshman. His sophomore season is set to be even better.
#91 Andre Szmyt – Kicker
It’s hard to imagine 2019 being any better for Andre Szmyt than last season. However, if his performance only matches it then he may still be one of the most important players on the field for the Orangmen. When you consider that he came to Syracuse as a walk on in 2017, his success takes on an even greater magnitude.
Szmyt led the nation in field goals in 2018 with 30, an ACC and Syracuse record. Unfortunately, he fell just one shy of tying the overall FBS record of 31 which has stood since 2003. In addition to his 30 field goals, Szmyt has hit an incredible 61 straight PAT attempts.
It’s an outstanding record that was rewarded in 2018 with the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s best place kicker. No player from Syracuse had ever won the award before. That’s how important Andre Szmyt is to this 2019 team.
Week 3 holds the key to 2019 Syracuse schedule…
Despite opening up the 2019 campaign with two roads games, Syracuse should be 2-0 when week 3 rolls around. An easy win over Liberty and a tough but winnable trip to Maryland will set the scene for what will be the toughest game on their schedule.
For week 3 sees Clemson come to the Carrier Dome, for a showdown in Syracuse. The Orangemen were so close to causing an upset in Death Valley last year. Can they do so again in 2019? It’s extremely hard to see past Clemson in the ACC this year. Any chance of success will lay with Robinson and Co on defence limiting the mighty Tigers offence in the hands of Trevor Lawrence.
Easy wins against Western Michigan and Holy Cross should follow before Syracuse face off against another team to hand them a defeat in 2018. This time around, Pitt will have to come to the Carrier Dome and I can see the Orangemen taking care of business in that one.
The Pitt game marks the start of a slate of ACC games to finish the season.
Their road game schedule contains winnable games against teams in varying degrees of disarray. FSU and Louisville were easily defeated in the Carrier Dome and I see no reason to suggest the same won’t happen again. NC State put up a good fight in 2018 but were defeated 51-41 in a shootout in Syracuse. They will be a team in transition in 2019 after losing Ryan Finley to the draft. The same can be said for Duke. They look to replace Daniel Jones, who may be the only reason they didn’t have an even worse record in 2018.
The 2019 Syracuse schedule is completed by home games with Boston College and the season finale against Wake Forest.
There is a real chance that Syracuse can go 11-1 in 2019 but unfortunately for them, they have the hurdle of Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. That might be a hurdle just too big to jump.
Feature Image Credit: syracuse.edu
All statistics courtesy of www.cuse.com