We haven’t seen or heard much about Syracuse Orange spring football practice, but Dino Babers said his quarterback room is the deepest it’s been since he arrived. The head coach has three quarterbacks who have started college games (Tommy DeVito, Garret Shrader and JaCobian Morgan) with two other scholarship athletes (Dillon Markiewicz and Justin Lamison) joining them in that room.
While we hope that every training camp features this level of competition it’s been pretty rare for the Orange since 2000. Many of you have complained that Dino handed the job to DeVito the last two years but looking back that’s actually been the pattern when it comes to Syracuse.
In 2000, returning QB Troy Nunes was the opening-week starter but freshman RJ Anderson saw plenty of action. For three seasons this duo ended up seeing a lot of action under center for Syracuse. When Nunes graduated Anderson took over full-time duties in 2003.
Joe Fields was named starter for the opener in 2004 but Perry Patterson took over the job in week two and held it through the 2006 season with little competition after Fields moved to the defense. In 2007 Andrew Robinson wins the job over former walk-on Cameron Dantley and the job would have remained his for two season if it wasn’t for injuries. That’s a stretch of five years without a lot of challenges for a position leading a struggling football program.
When Doug Marrone took over he brought in Greg Paulus and gave him the job over Ryan Nassib. After seeing limited action in 2009 it was all Nassib for the next three seasons under Marrone. The quarterback helped bring the Orange back to bowl games and solidified the position after a long stretch of uncertainty.
After Marrone and Nassib departed, Scott Shafer brought in transfer Drew Allen to claim the job but Allen ended up struggling and watched as Terrel Hunt took over and led the Orange to the Texas Bowl.
The job was Hunt’s to lose in 2014 and 2015 but injuries forced Syracuse to turn to two freshmen- AJ Long and Eric Dungey to lead the team. With Hunt and Long gone in 2016 all Dungey had to do was hold off former walk-on Zach Mahoney.
Injuries and limited depth meant Mahoney saw a lot of action in 2016 and 2017 when Dungey was out. The arrival of Tommy DeVito in 2018 gave Syracuse a legitimate competition and also some success when Dungey was out. After being benched for DeVito in the North Carolina win, Dungey responded and played some of his best football leading Syracuse to a 10-win season.
Unfortunately Syracuse went backwards the next two years when there wasn’t enough talent to challenge DeVito or replace him when he went out. The offensive struggles the past two seasons are not all on the quarterbacks but it didn’t help matters when there wasn’t a solid starting option ready to step in.
What will 2021 bring? Well for one thing it looks like it’s going to bring the first really competitive training camp battle since 2013. This is the first time in a while that Syracuse has the positional depth to keep us from knowing the likely opening week starter as we finish spring practice.
That’s no disrespect to the players who filled the back-up role during this time, but the reality is that an injury at quarterback has torpedoed more than a couple of seasons during this stretch. This doesn’t mean success is sure to follow, but Babers could be setting Syracuse up to have enough talented quarterbacks to keep pushing one another for the next three seasons.
The Orange haven’t seen a consistent quarterback battle over multiple seasons in nearly twenty years but hey could be heading in that direction (and yes the new transfer rule will challenge the ability to retain this depth). If Babers can land one solid QB each recruiting class he could find the competition needed to push his team back to the offensive football that Syracuse fans have been waiting to see.