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Syracuse football: can the Orange turn to the past to find future success?

Count me as a solid maybe...

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Syracuse Coach Paul Pasqualoni SetNumber: X72355 TK1

Last week Bruce Feldman of The Athletic looked at the Syracuse Orange football program’s success in the 80s and 90s. He talked with former players and coaches and left us to question if Syracuse could reclaim that past glory. It’s a question we’ve discussed here often, but it’s worth looking at some of the points made by those who were part of that success.

Recruiting in the Northeast

The Orange enjoyed limited competition in the Northeast, but now that’s changed. Using ON3’s state rankings for 2024, you can see that Michigan (3) and Georgia (2) have landed commitments from top 10 recruits in New York and Connecticut. Syracuse isn’t alone in facing this as Oregon and Alabama have top 5 commits from Pennsylvania. Now you aren’t battling Boston College, Rutgers, Pitt and Penn State, you’ve got Big 10 and SEC schools heading into New England and recruiting in bulk.

The world is smaller because coaches have access to more information from more places. It’s a lot harder to keep players from being discovered these days.

It’s clear that Syracuse needs to keep some talent close to home, but it’s also obvious the Orange need to keep making strides in bigger areas of talent like Florida. They need to not only find the next 2-3 stars who become Another area which could help feed the Orange with some under the radar talent is Canada and with the travel restrictions lifted, sending coaches north could be a wise investment.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Syracuse at UConn

An innovative offense

A lot of the article focused on Syracuse taking advantage of teams with an offense that blended option, power running and a vertical passing attack. Coach P always talked about being “more multiple” and George DeLeone devised a scheme which allowed the Orange keep defenses guessing.

Dino Babers arrived with a promise of bringing the Baylor offense indoors. His tenure has not seen that promise delivered consistently, but last year’s Robert Anae/Jason Beck scheme gave Syracuse a more potent attack despite some key injuries. Beck assumes the OC role this year and we’ll have to see if he can keep the momentum going for a 2nd straight year. There’s no denying that Garrett Shrader was greatly improved in 2022 and if you see him maintain or improve this Fall, you can certainly capture more attention from signal-callers.

In college football, if you have a quarterback then you’ve got a good chance of winning games. Syracuse has been no different in the modern era and it’s an area the Orange need to highlight moving forward. Maybe now it’s less about the idea that you are being innovative and more about a system that gets more offensive players into the NFL where recruits can see them.

Leaning on the legacy

This quote from Rob Konrad in Feldman’s piece stood out to me in part because it highlights that last issue:

Syracuse had Donovan McNabb, Donovin Darius, Tebucky Jones, Marvin Harrison. Those guys looked pretty damn good. They said, “We want you to wear Jim Brown’s number (44).” That’s a commitment. It was super meaningful for me.

We’ve talked about the lack of Syracuse alums in meaningful NFL spots, but that combined with the University putting 44 on the shelf has an impact on what the program is trying to do. Syracuse basketball and lacrosse embrace the history of the programs and it would be nice to see football follow suit. Even if you don’t want to put 44 in the hands of a recruit, reminding them that the Orange have produced a fair share of legends would be a start.

Today’s players may not be as familiar with the accolades of the greats we remember, so it’s up to Syracuse to keep them at the forefront of the program’s brand until new ones emerge.


Nothing here is a quick fix for Syracuse. Nothing is going to make the Orange a perennial top 10 program, but the past might provide some areas worth revisiting. If Syracuse can start pushing for annual top 25 appearances, the program will be in a better position to navigate the turbulent times ahead as schools jockey for position in the most lucrative conferences.

To do so, the Orange can’t simply look at what worked in this era, but they can borrow from the successes that these teams enjoyed.