In what should be familiar territory for Syracuse Orange fans, SU football has lost its starting quarterback for what’s likely to be the remainder of the season. The dreaded “lower body injury” felled Tommy DeVito in the fourth quarter vs. Duke, and now we’re left with uncertainty.
Since 2013, just one season has seen the same starting QB for every game (Eric Dungey in 2018), and even then, Dungey missed significant time due to injury against Florida State and Notre Dame, while also being benched against North Carolina. Last year saw DeVito in every game, but he failed to start in the finale against Wake Forest due to injury.
No matter what you think of DeVito’s performance thus far, he’s Dino Babers’s most experienced passer in this system and turning the page may not be as simple as just “start another guy.”
But with DeVito already in year four on campus and Babers needing to start looking toward the future of this program — which hinges heavily on quarterback play — this becomes an opportunity to define what’s next for Syracuse. And what’s next for Babers’s tenure with the Orange.
So who gets the ball? First, a look at our options.
Rex Culpepper, (redshirt) senior
Culpepper is the only other Syracuse QB to throw a collegiate pass. He’s 8-of-19 for 113 yards, a touchdown and a pick this year. On his career, he’s 53-for-94 for 631 yards, three TDs and four interceptions. While not overly accurate in his time on the field this season, Culpepper does make quick decisions with the ball and is able to get passes out before the inevitable pocket collapse.
On the one hand, Culpepper’s experience gives him a leg up. But with this being his last year on campus, he’s not the future of the program. He may be able to improve his accuracy over the course of the year, but even if that happens, we’re still potentially starting over next year or the year after.
Given the upcoming schedule — Liberty, at Clemson — there’s some value to putting him out there for a couple games to see how he does in the immediate term. If it doesn’t work out, at least you haven’t potentially rendered another young passer shell-shocked by feeding him to the wolves against Clemson.
Dillon Markiewicz, freshman
At least on sideline views, we’ve seen more of the Texas product than any other QB beyond DeVito and Culpepper. So that could potentially mean something toward how coaches feel about the pecking order. He’s also 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, so he certainly has the size to go up against ACC defenses, especially with this line.
Markiewicz showed himself a playmaker as a senior in high school with over 4,000 yards through the air, and he even has some mobility to go with that. The fact that he’s from Texas could make him the easiest player to plug into this system and pick things up pretty quickly.
As mentioned above, with Liberty and Clemson coming up, it’s possible that Culpepper gets starts first before moving on to a younger option. I’d guess Dillon’s our top choice if and when that time comes.
David Summers, (redshirt) freshman
What do we know about Summers thus far? Other than him sharing a QB coach with DeVito, he’s spent over a year on campus and hasn’t been able to crack the depth chart yet. It’s also anecdotal, but I can’t say I’ve seen much of him on the sideline or as part of travel teams.
That’s not to say he can’t step in and make something happen. But unlike Markiewicz, he is more of a traditional pro-style passer without a lot of spread experience. That may not be an issue considering how little the current offense resembles a spread. However, we need someone that coaches are confident in handing things over to and letting it rip.
Don’t count Summers out for the job. He just may be trailing the younger Markiewicz right now.
JaCobian Morgan, freshman
Morgan has the least overall experience under center of this group, and as such, probably needs the most work to plug in. That could be an opportunity for Syracuse, since he may also have more improvisational abilities than a QB that’s pushed themselves into more stringent habits over the years. But given the offensive line struggles and receiver issues this year, it also may pay more dividends to have a seasoned passer who’s fully aware of what to do when things break down.
He’s also smaller than the other options by 10 pounds or so. That may not sound like much, but if he’s going to get hit a lot (seems likely) it could turn him into a sacrificial lamb.
Don’t want to completely count out walk-on freshman Luke MacPhail, but if we have to turn to a walk-on with four other scholarship passers on the roster, then this staff has failed in more ways than were previously imaginable.
As mentioned above, Culpepper seems to be the most likely starting option early given the fact that Babers hasn’t really put anyone else under center this year and his experience with the gig. The biggest fear with having anyone else start against Clemson or another ACC team is that they’re quickly under siege and develop the same mental tics that seemed to derail DeVito. Counter to that point, the right QB could deal with that challenge better than DeVito has to this point.
Markiewicz is probably going to see the field at some point, but Culpepper’s success or lack thereof really dictates how much. While the future is a key consideration for Babers and this staff, ultimately they do need to win games and whichever QB provides the best chance to do that seems most likely going to start.