As the 2020 Syracuse Orange football season has descended into despair, there are fair and legitimate criticisms launched to Dino Babers and his staff and there are some unsubstantiated claims I’d like to address.
Several of you have echoed this sentiment that Babers took Scott Shafer’s players and rode them to a 10-win season while neglecting to fill various holes which have led to this thin roster. There have been multiple comments that this staff has failed to develop any players and lack the ability to land big recruits, or turn the players they get into valuable contributors. So let’s go back and walk back the road that’s gotten us to this point.
Babers arrived in Syracuse in December 2015 to take over a program that had Eric Dungey, Zack Mahoney and Austin Wilson as the quarterbacks. He took a recruiting class ranked 62nd (all rankings in this are from 24/7) and from the bottom of the group found starters Josh Black, Airon Servais and McKinley Williams. The Orange brought in graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo who had 30 career receptions at Maryland and all he did was catch 94 passes in 2016. Syracuse was only 4-8 in Babers’ first season but they played the final three games with Mahoney as the starting QB.
The 2017 recruiting class was ranked 54th and was highlighted by 4-star Elite 11 QB Tommy DeVito. I’m not going to get into a debate about his career but no one can deny that this is exactly the type of recruit fans are still calling for. He checked all the boxes in terms of ranking, location, and national interest. Syracuse also brought in transfers Alton Robinson and Ravian Pierce to play DE and TE. The bottom half of this class of 3-stars included Chris Elmore, Ifeatu Melifonwu and Tyrell Richards. Syracuse’s 2017 season was again impacted by another Dungey injury as the Orange’s last three games were started by Mahoney and Rex Culpepper.
We know what happened on the field in 2018 but before that group kicked off the 10-win season Syracuse signed the 51st ranked class which included the 3rd and 4th best NY recruits in Trill Williams and Qadir White. Another 3-star in that group chose the Orange over three Big Ten schools (Nebraska, Illinois, and Northwestern). The 929th best player in the class Andre Cisco certainly exceeded expectations in turning into a likely NFL Draft pick.
After losing Steve Ishmael and Erv Phillips, Babers and staff took a wide receiver with 13 career catches and turned Jamal Custis into a deep threat in his senior year. Custis had 51 receptions which was second on the team and while Dungey was able to play in all 13 games, DeVito was instrumental in two wins. The offensive line was anchored by graduate transfer tackle Koda Martin. Syracuse’s leaders in tackles (Ryan Guthrie), sacks (Robinson and Kendall Coleman) and interceptions (Cisco) were all players brought in by Babers. As was Andre Szmyt who was 30-34 on field goals during his All-American season. In anticipation for Custis and Dontae Strickland’s departure the Orange added Trishton Jackson from Michigan State and Abdul Adams from Oklahoma. Jackson was the Orange’s top receiver in 2019 before his early departure for the NFL while Adams served as a backup to Moe Neal and was projected to share carries with Jarveon Howard before both opted out this August.
The 2019 (57th) class was supplemented by another graduate transfer, All Sun Belt Conference OT Ryan Alexander who didn’t provide the stability as Martin did the previous season. The departure of 2018 recruit Chance Amie led the staff to add Clayton Welch to back up DeVito. Welch ended up having to see time after DeVito was injured against Pitt. He came in at Louisville and started the final game. It was a poor decision by Babers which led to DeVito’s initial injury during the Holy Cross game and might have ultimately cost Syracuse their bowl eligibility.
Syracuse’s 2020 (58th) and 2021 (currently 46th) classes have been built around addressing depth along both lines and with three QBs to find a suitable challenger for the 2021 starting position. The staff landed Florida Gators transfer Chris Bleich in an attempt to shore up the offensive line, but he’s one of the few players who didn’t receive a waiver to play immediately.
Next year’s commit list features two players in the top 500 nationally in Duce Chestnut and Enrique Cruz and right now the lowest-rated recruit (Josh Hough) is averaging 20 yards per carry in high school. Will these players be needed immediately or can Syracuse get in the position to give them the opportunity to get acclimated and eased into the rotation?
There are certainly legitimate criticisms of the Dino Babers era at Syracuse. And there is plenty of room for improvement the rest of this season and into 2021. But those who think Babers has sat back and let a roster wither away are simply ignoring what has been done to try and push the Orange back to consistent bowl appearances for the first time since the early 2000s.