The Syracuse Orange football Spring Showcase (spring game) begins at 10 a.m. ET at the Carrier Dome. If you’re forced to stream the action instead of watching in-person, you can do so on ACC Network Extra.
But before the game, what are some of our big questions? Dan and I mentioned this year’s game is a little less eventful than last year’s, but that doesn’t remove the intrigue.
We asked our small panel of football “experts” below for their thoughts going into Saturday.
What are you most anxious to see at Saturday's spring game?
Kevin Wall: I think the success of the 2017 Syracuse football team will be determined by the play of both lines so I'm most curious to see how they look against the second units they will be facing.
Ari Gilberg: I’m most anxious to see which receiver steps up and attempts to take the first step to carving out a large role in this offense. With Amba Etta-Tawo and Brisly Estime both departing, more than 140 catches are up for grabs. Erv Phillips caught 90 passes last season even with Etta-Tawo and Estime on the field, so it’s unlikely his production will see much of an uptick. That means Steve Ishmael, Jamal Custis, Devin Butler and Sean Riley will all have a chance to make their case on Saturday.
John Cassillo: A more competent defense, and a healthy Eric Dungey back on the field. Both were sorely missed at the end of last season. Defense, in particular, making strides would be my biggest fear/worry.
Which player has the most potential to surprise on Saturday?
KW: Since this showcase is set up to highlight the skill positions, Tyrone Perkins is someone who could surprise us. I'd look for him to get opportunities against the first-team defense and he could break a big play.
AG: Continuing from my previous answer, I’m going to go with Custis. The redshirt junior only has five career catches for 22 yards, but has been presented with a great opportunity to have a breakout season this year – which will get off to a nice start this Saturday. Custis is red zone nightmare for defenses, standing at 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds. In addition, he has thrived so far in spring practice, recently hauling in three touchdowns in the team’s second scrimmage last week.
JC: Ravian Pierce, potentially. I’d say Custis, but given how much I champion his potential, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him light him up. Since fans have never seen Pierce live -- and Babers hasn’t used tight ends much -- heavy usage (and production) for the JUCO TE could surprise in a good way.
How much of the playbook are we actually seeing (percentage-wise)?
KW: I'd say we see somewhere around 60-65% of the offense and a bit lower from the defense. Enough to get some buzz from the crowd, but not enough to give opponents a lot of tape to review.
AG: Well, technically none, since Babers doesn’t use an actual playbook in the traditional sense of the word. But in terms of how much of the offense we’ll see, I’ll estimate around 30 percent. Typically teams won’t run the majority of its offense, in large part due to the fact they haven’t had enough time to practice and they don’t want to reveal too much to their upcoming opponents.
JC: I’m airing on the low side. Likely to witness a lot of what we already ran last year, plus maybe a couple more wrinkles for running game and tight end position. It’ll still be entertaining due to pace of play. But don’t expect anything new.
How different will the offense look compared to last year?
KW: This year's offense should be faster as the players adjust to the tempo and terminology. I also think we'll see the ball spread around a lot more than last year based upon the personnel. Something tells me that we'll be surprised with how much Syracuse runs the ball in 2017.
AG: Relatively the same. It’s unlikely Babers will change much after the success he had last season, primarily in the passing game. However, there will be some changes as Babers will most likely try to utilize four-star tight end Ravian Pierce more so than he has with previous tight ends he’s worked with. In addition, he’ll have to account for the loss of his go-to big-play receiver in Etta-Tawo. But again, the system itself and the plays run will be relatively the same.
JC: Have mentioned multiple times: more running and more tight end involvement. It’s unlikely Dungey runs as much as he did last year, either. Expect the team to also use intermediate routes more now that the offense is more comfortable in this system, and Steve Ishmael is the primary receiver.
Same question, for the defense
KW: Defensively I think we'll see a bit more blitzing from the linebackers as SU looks to create more havoc. A healthy confident secondary gives the Orange more flexibility in their approach.
AG: The defense should look remarkably similar, but also remarkably better than the one that finished the season giving up 76 points to Pitt. While Corey Winfield elected to transfer to West Virginia, Syracuse returns nearly every other key starter and contributor – in addition to newcomers such as Devin M. Butler and Nadarius Fagan. Since it’s highly doubtful Babers is going to suddenly switch from his traditional Tampa-2 defense, expect the scheme to remain the same, but for it to be better executed.
JC: With “new” players in there on the defensive line and in the secondary, the team should resemble more of the Tampa-2 scheme than the hybrid it ran last year. Coverage should be better with grad transfers, and JUCOs will help out the depth issue on the line. They’re not suddenly stone-walling opponents. But SU will look far more competent on this side of the ball.
What about you? Share your thoughts on these questions and more below.