In October 2021, the Syracuse football team went 2-3 for the month. Football fans will remember those three losses because they were to Florida State, Wake Forest and Clemson. All three losses were only by a total of 3 points with opportunities to win.
Why do I bring these painful memories up that contributed to a 5-win season with no bowl game to show for it? Because it’s my belief that their ability to play those games and Rutgers closely shows that with some minor changes, this team could win games like that.
Let’s start with the changes on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Gilbert is gone and in his place is Coach Robert Anae along with a new quarterback coach and receiving coach. QB coach Jason Beck has a successful history with quarterbacks while working with Coach Anae so addressing this position alone is huge. So much of the early season was transitioning from Tommy Devito to Garrett Shrader which I wonder how much improved this team would be had one of those options been the leader from the first snap to the last.
Now add Michael Johnson Sr. as your wide receiver coach (according to reports) and your young receiving group has a coach with NFL & power 5 conference experience. Could we start to see one of those young receivers finally separate themselves this season especially with CJ Hayes transferring from Michigan State and Donovan Brown, a former high school football and track star?
I’m optimistic that Syracuse football can, and will, have a solid 2022 season.
Also, I think a huge change many may underestimate that will benefit this team is the edition of a special teams coordinator. How often did the special teams actually hurt the progress or momentum during the 2021 season? If incoming coach Bob Ligashesky can improve the punting game and help Andre Szmyt become the Szmyt Happens of old, those three close games and even more could have ended with Syracuse winning, either with relying on Andre to hit a game-winner or tie or punting into worse field position for our opponent.
Syracuse did lose a major asset on the offensive line in Airon Servais as well as multiple 5th-year seniors and stud quarterback hunting transfer Cody Roscoe on the defensive line. The good news is that the offensive line is returning the majority of its players, including what appears to be a healthier Chris Bleich post an offseason procedure and a reliable Matthew Bergeron.
And as for the defense, thankfully Mikel Jones, Marlowe Wax, Caleb Okechukwu, Stefon Thompson and even Chase Simmons were contributing factors who will lead the way up front along with possible immediate help from highly touted high school recruits Francois Nolton Jr. and Denis Jaquez Jr. (thanks to his friendship with Duce Chesnut).
And while the secondary and running back position also lost quality depth/starting players, you have studs returning and depth added using portal transfers as well as high school recruits. If Sean Tucker, Chris Elmore, Garrett Williams, and Duce Chesnut alone can provide 3/4 of the production we’ve seen from them in the past, those areas are in good hands if healthy. Now add in a New Jersey Gatorade player of the year in LeQuint Allen and Juwaun Price, transferring from New Mexico State, as depth to the backfield and former 4-star Rutgers transfer Alijah Clark and Louisville transfer Bralyn Oliver to the secondary and in my opinion, that’s the depth needed.
Can I sit here and promise you this team will go undefeated? As much as I’d love to do that, I can’t (but I’m always hopeful and optimistic it’s possible until proven wrong). But I can look at last year’s team and how close it was to a 7-8 win season at least, look at how Coach Babers and the staff addressed some issues and think this team at least has the potential to achieve a bowl game, especially if the young, unproven talent can at least provide quality play let alone excel.