We’re getting closer to the start of the 2018 Syracuse Orange football season. And that means position previews for each group on this year’s SU roster.
Each week leading up to the season, we’re profiling one group and every player that could make an impact this fall. Today, we start with:
Since Dino Babers arrived, the offense has been pass-heavy, with production from the QB position being the most critical of all to the Orange’s success. Last year’s passing offense racked up 3,538 yards and 20 scores — but there was a bit of a drop-off from the previous season’s numbers there. Additionally, the pass was less efficient overall. Syracuse quarterbacks completed 58.4 percent of their throws and averaged just 6.5 yards per pass. Both of those numbers fell off from 2016 and will need to rebound if this offense wants to take the next step and start hitting 30 points or more on a regular basis.
Eric Dungey, Senior
Any conversation around Syracuse’s bowl chances in 2018 start with Dungey and his health, so it’s more than appropriate this series leads off with him. The senior has added size in recent seasons, and that potentially helped him avoid a head injury for the first time with the Orange. However, he still ended up with a bum ankle which slowed him against Florida State, then completely removed him from the final three games of 2017. Without Dungey, the offense appeared rudderless and bowl hopes were dashed.
As always, we wonder how much Dungey can reduce his running (led the team with 595 yards last year) while still remaining dangerous as a passer rolling out of the pocket. There’s no doubt he can throw, and his place in the school record books emphasizes that. However, accuracy did dip last year. Chalk that up to injuries if you want. But the focus this year needs to be on improving his completion percentage (59.7 last season) and getting a more functional downfield passing game again after that aspect dropped off in 2017. Dungey’s also yet to complete a full season for Syracuse — his senior year would be a great time to see what he can do when healthy over the course of 12 (or perhaps even 13) games.
Tommy DeVito, (Redshirt) Freshman
DeVito is the program’s apparent savior for many Orange fans, despite not taking a game snap yet. Still, the former four-star passer has a cannon for an arm, poise in the pocket and some of the downfield accuracy the other QBs on the team seem to lack. For as much as Dungey has amassed numerous records, DeVito may be able to do even more in Babers’s system as a true pocket passer. As of right now, he’s the second-string quarterback, but that means he’s just a Dungey injury away from seeing the field this fall. Should that happen, let’s hope the New Jersey product is ready (and for what it’s worth, I think he is).
Rex Culpepper, (Redshirt) Sophomore
Culpepper’s offseason has been focused on matters more important than football, but he is back with the team and getting his strength back up slowly but surely following several months of chemotherapy. Last year, Rex saw his first game action, completing 60 percent of his throws for 518 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions — and he should be able to build on that experience (which included a start versus Boston College). Just getting him back healthy is a win on its own. But Culpepper could surprise and get some snaps given his previous game experience at the college level.
Clayton Welch, (Redshirt) Junior
The former walk-on is on scholarship, and while we haven’t seen him in-game, he has shown himself to be capable in limited spring action. Welch is actually the biggest QB on the roster, at a towering 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds. That sort of size sets him up well to see targets downfield past the ACC’s large defensive fronts, and potentially take off and run with it while avoiding the same sort of injury concerns that always accompany Dungey’s scampers. I wouldn’t expect to see him out there at all this year, but Dino’s surprised before.
Chance Amie, Freshman
Amie was a late flip from Houston during the 2018 recruiting process, and it’s a good thing too, given the lack of options in this year’s quarterback class. While Babers’s system has typically gone after pocket passers, Amie’s a departure from that sort of athlete — more in the vein of what Dungey brings to the table. He’s a true dual-threat, throwing for over 1,400 yards and running for another thousand as a senior at Texas’s Robert E. Lee High School. It seems highly likely he’ll redshirt this season given the four veteran passers in front of him (though next year, he’ll be right in the mix with DeVito and Culpepper).
Babers believes this is Syracuse’s best quarterback group since 1998, and while we won’t ever be able to prove that, it’s still high praise for this collection of passers currently on the Orange roster. Dungey is one of the best we’ve ever had under center despite not being a natural fit for this system at all. Culpepper and DeVito both arrived despite bigger offers. Amie comes from an area of the country that is pretty much all-spread, which smooths the learning curve for him considerably at SU.
At the end of the day, Dungey’s health is the biggest point of contention, and the one that dictates how far this team can go (especially with an inexperienced receiver group to throw to). But for the first time in a while, there’s at least some confidence that Syracuse can avoid a major drop-off should the senior get injured (that said, please stay healthy out there, Eric).