Welcome to July! Under normal circumstances, we’d be happily previewing the upcoming Syracuse Orange football season without an ounce of dread in sight. Instead, we’re wondering if the 2020 campaign even happens for SU and hundreds of other college football teams around the country.
Still, until we hear otherwise, we’re trying to look at the season ahead as normal (or as close to normal as we can). So each week leading up to kickoff, we’ll be looking at a different position group on the Orange roster, and every player that may (or may not) make an impact this fall.
We start with:
Eric Dungey was the straw that stirred the drink for Syracuse’s offense throughout his four years on campus — something that’s equally attributable to his talents and the nature of Dino Babers’s up-tempo attack. As we saw last year, this team was far more competitive when it was keeping quarterbacks (Tommy DeVito, Clayton Welch) off their backs. But because of the offensive line struggles — among other issues — a complete game from the QBs was a bit of a rarity.
As a team, Syracuse was 59th in passing yards per game (240.6) and managed 23 touchdowns through the air vs. just seven interceptions. The yardage total was the lowest figure by far since Babers arrived, and the lowest for Syracuse since 2015 when the team threw for just 156.8 per game. There’s a big difference between what we saw in 2019 and 2015, of course. Still, you can’t blame anyone for being worried about that decline plus the 50 sacks allowed. That, among other production struggles, is what spurred Dino hiring his former offensive coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert, to take the reins this year.
Tommy DeVito, (Redshirt) Junior
After a rough few games to begin his career as a starter, DeVito did find ways to improve subtly during 2019. He stared receivers down a bit less, tried to go through progressions more and avoided bad picks. Still, he sustained numerous injuries over the course of the season, and by the end, was too banged up to get under center.
This season, with a better line in front of him and a year of valuable lessons under his belt, the hope is that we see a more consistent and efficient passer. In 2019, he was accurate (63.2%), but also averaged just seven yards per pass. His 19 touchdowns were impressive compared to most previous single-season totals in Syracuse history, yet he threw zero scores in four full games, and three of the first five games (garbage time vs. Maryland, WMU and Holy Cross) accounted for 11 of those — and three of his top five yardage totals of 2019.
This year, the hope is that the better protection leads to going through progressions more to involve the full complement of receivers, and maybe turn that into more consistent big downfield completions. He still has a solid deep ball, as we saw when he connected on those. If DeVito can join the ability he displayed to utilize the sideline with more throws to the middle of the field and a more effective screen game, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how this offense takes off. Some big “ifs” there, obviously. Though even progress in one aspect could pay some major dividends.
Rex Culpepper, (Redshirt) Senior
After a brief switch to tight end, Culpepper returns to the quarterback position and is the second-most experienced passer on the roster. He threw just two passes last season, but had some reasonable production back in 2017, going 45-of-75 for 518 yards, two scores and three picks.
Rex could potentially get thrown into action this year if there’s an injury to DeVito (please, no). There’s also the possibility, though, that Syracuse opts for one of the various younger QBs on the roster in an effort to grow some meaningful future depth. Wideout Taj Harris has thrown more college passes (three) than the rest of the quarterbacks combined.
David Summers, (Redshirt) Freshman
Summers took a redshirt last year, but did get to spend some valuable time learning this system, watching DeVito and the other QBs, and getting a better sense of the personnel on this roster. That time likely makes him the next man up if needed — though he sat behind Culpepper on the two-deep depth chart back in March. With about 10 more pounds on him than DeVito has, he at least seems to have the size to step into the role.
Dillon Markiwiecz, Freshman
Speaking of size, Markiwiecz is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds — so a player who could really add some impressive muscle and maybe even do some damage with his legs should he wind up developing into more of a dual-threat. Dillon signed with Syracuse over offers from Boise State, Texas State and Stephen F. Austin, but could be a diamond in the rough. As a senior, he threw for over 4,100 yards and 45 touchdowns. Like most Texas products, he already knows how to play in this sort of system. Feel like he’s probably taking a redshirt this year barring disaster, however.
Jacobian Morgan, Freshman
Morgan is another taller (6-foot-4) QB, and was even more under-the-radar than Markiwiecz after only being offered by Jackson State and Austin Peay beyond SU. He’s only been a quarterback for a year, so he’s raw but has potential. His tape already shows decent downfield accuracy, along with some promising athleticism and mobility. Like Markiwiecz, he’s a very likely redshirt this season. We’ll see what he can develop into over the next couple years.
Drew Gunther, (Redshirt) Freshman
Gunther returns after redshirting as a walk-on in 2019, and like all of these passers, is at least 6-foot-2 and over 210 pounds. While he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers at the high school level (2,136 and 24 TDs as a senior), he’s a proven winner with a 22-3 record. Have to think he’s unlikely to get snaps at QB this year — though would potentially be the preference over burning redshirts for Morgan or Markiewicz (they do have four games to work with now, though).
Luke MacPhail, Freshman
SU added yet another pro-style passer in February, with preferred walk-on Luke MacPhail from Massachusetts (Brookline). His Twitter feed lists him at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, so he’s yet another big passer, also bringing the sort of size required for Syracuse until we see more consistent offensive line play year-to-year. Given that it’s his first year on campus, a redshirt seems very likely.
With luck, Syracuse is looking to the QB depth chart a little less this season than they were last year. But after (understandably) giving the ball to Welch at various points last season, there still isn’t much experience to cal upon beyond DeVito — save Culpepper, of course. That’s typical of many college football teams, though many football teams didn’t have the O-line struggles SU did last year. Avoiding those automatically means it’s less of a concern to have inexperience beyond DeVito.
On the positive end, this group could really learn a lot from Gilbert — who coached Matt Johnson (briefly) at Bowling Green and Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois while working under Babers before. Last year’s offense was a slow-moving group by Babers’s standards, and adjusting that on its own could help this QB group automatically be a lot more productive. Between that and some hopefully improved play-calling, it’ll be an interesting first few games should they happen. We’ll be left to wonder “what if” on how this offense and the QB position could’ve been improved by a full offseason implementing this system in person, though.