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Tommy DeVito Key for Syracuse

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Successfully transitioning to sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito and the continued development of the veteran Orange defense are the biggest keys to Syracuse posting back-to-back winning season for the first time since 2012-13 and fulfilling the high preseason expectations the program will likely face.

The 2018 season was magical for the Syracuse football program. The Orange won 10 games for the first time since 2001, and they came closer than anybody at beating the eventual 15-0 and national champion Clemson Tigers.

Syracuse ended its season 10-3 and beat former Big East rival West Virginia, 34-18, in the Camping World Bowl.

But now that Orange football appears on its way back, Syracuse’s next big obstacle is proving 2018 wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Orange followed up their last 10-3 season with a highly disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2002.

Successfully transitioning to sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito and the continued development of the veteran Orange defense are the biggest keys to Syracuse posting back-to-back winning season for the first time since 2012-13 and fulfilling the high preseason expectations the program will likely face.

The biggest reason to doubt whether Syracuse can repeat its 2018 success is the loss of quarterback Eric Dungey. I’ve written time and time again about how Dungey was the heart and soul of the Orange football program the last three years. When he started and finished a game from 2016-18, Syracuse went 16-10. During the same stretch in games where he didn’t start or left with an injury and didn’t return, the Orange posted a 2-9 record.

That poor mark without Dungey will naturally make a few national college football writers wonder whether Dino Babers has any magic left for the 2019 season. It could cause the Orange to start the season outside the Top 25 in polls.

But with DeVito, Syracuse has the right successor to Dungey behind center. Thanks to DeVito, the Orange went 2-1 in games where Dungey left with an injury last year. In those previous two seasons, Syracuse was an abysmal 0-8 in which the team didn’t have its starting signal caller.

DeVito, who was a heralded 3-star prospect from the nationally renowned Don Bosco Prep High School, looked good during most of his relief appearances. He didn’t just manage the games in which he entered for the injured Dungey; DeVito is the reason Syracuse won.

The sophomore-to-be completed 22-of-35 (62.9 percent) of his passes for 325 yards against Florida State and North Carolina. He averaged an impressive 9.3 yards per attempt and threw four touchdowns versus one interception as well.

DeVito received a third chance at significant playing time against Notre Dame, but he struggled mightily against the Irish defense. But considering only Trevor Lawrence solved the Notre Dame defense last season, we should be more than willing to give DeVito a pass at the poor afternoon versus the Irish.

Portions of two games are obviously a very small sample size, but DeVito showcased his full potential in those two wins.

No matter how inexperienced a quarterback may be, Babers never runs his offense with his signal caller as a game manager. The expectation is that DeVito will have full reign and be the sole leader of the offense by September. If he isn’t, the Orange will have trouble getting to 10 wins again, but DeVito appears ready for the challenge.

Syracuse’s next biggest obstacle on offense is ensuring DeVito has enough protection. The Orange lost both starting offensive tackles Koda Martin and Cody Conway. The program also lost one of its starting guards, Aaron Roberts.

Syracuse will likely be counting on redshirt freshman Carlos Vettorello and junior Patrick Davis filling the two holes at offensive tackle. Vettorello only appeared in two games last season while Davis has mostly played on special teams in his college career. Davis has played 68 offensive snaps in 15 games.

But unlike in previous years during Babers tenure in central New York, Syracuse could count more on its defense. The Orange return eight defensive starters, including all four along the defensive line and in the secondary.

That does mean, though, that Syracuse must replace all three of its starting linebackers from last season. From a leadership perspective, the Orange defense will miss linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett as much as Dungey, and maybe even more because it’s not exactly clear who will replace Franklin and Bennett as the defense’s leaders.

These concerns could cause Syracuse to start the year outside the Top 25. But still, the Orange will likely face their highest preseason expectations in years, as most experts consider them the biggest threat to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic.

Part of that is by default, but Syracuse has also played the Tigers tough each of the last two years and beat Clemson the last time the two teams met at the Carrier Dome, which is where this fall’s meeting will be.

Maybe Syracuse will be able to rely more often on its defense this year, but Babers’ “MO” is offense. Specifically, he runs a quick paced offense with a cerebral, dual-threat quarterback at the helm.

DeVito may not be as big of a dual-threat as Dungey, but his ability to seamlessly transition into the starting role remains the biggest factor to Syracuse again finishing second, or perhaps even higher, in the ACC Atlantic.