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Syracuse Football: Can The Orange Get Back to 1,000-Yard Rushers?

Hey, remember that running back heritage?

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

You, Syracuse Orange football fan, don't need to be told about the program's long history of successful running backs. From Jim Brown to Ernie Davis, Floyd Little to Delone Carter and so many (many) more, SU's strongest bit of identity is based in that position and the number 44 so many of the best rushers have worn.

And yet, during the program's recent struggles, the focus on the run game has vanished (helping the downfall even further by killing the tradition, in a way). From 2013 through 2015, no Syracuse player ran for 1,000 yards, and just one (Jerome Smith, with 914 in 2013) even came close. Since the same Smith rushed for nearly 1,200 yards on his own in 2012, the team's top two running backs each season have struggled to combine for that total -- the numbers have dropped there each year starting in 2013.

Call it a failed collection of offensive schemes, a loss of identity or a lack of talent at the position (you'd be wrong on the last one, by the way) if you must. But following a similar, several-year stretch of ground game futility, the Orange managed to reel off five consecutive 1,000-yard rushers from 2008 through 2012. So, why not again?


I mean, look at this collection of personnel Syracuse has at its disposal this spring (and fall). In part, maybe the long list of possible running backs could derail the quest for an individual 1,000-yard rusher right from the start. But a split backfield isn't an excuse for missing the mark, to be honest. Especially in Dino Babers's offense. Last year, both Travis Greene and Fred Coppet averaged 5.7 yards per carry or more, with Greene getting enough touches to surpass the 1,000-yard mark (he had 1,299 total). On far less carries in 2014, Greene would fall about 51 yards short of 1K.

You know who else had 5.7 yards per carry last year, though? Both Ervin Philips AND Jordan Fredericks -- two players who will probably end up with the lion's share of running opportunities for Syracuse in 2016. Those players (inexplicably) had just 148 combined carries last year -- or about 80 less than Greene had on his own in 2015.

Babers's offense isn't a guarantee of certain results, whether that's wins or losses, certain statistical plateaus or even a degree of watchability (sorry). But at least previous results from experienced players show a system that provides more wins, better statistics and more watchability than what we've become accustomed to. While it's not the ENTIRE path to success, a quality run game is certainly a start. And for Syracuse, it's an important part of the program's identity with fans too. Expect a very welcome return to that identity -- even if it still looks a little different than what we're used to -- in 2016.