Coach Dino Babers and Syracuse had holes to fill on the roster and the staff to get ready for season

FILE - Purdue tight end Payne Durham, right, loses his helmet while being tackled by Syracuse...
FILE - Purdue tight end Payne Durham, right, loses his helmet while being tackled by Syracuse linebacker Marlowe Wax (2) and defensive back Justin Barron (23) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Syracuse’s defense, which finished in the top-20 nationally last year, returns seven starters.(Adrian Kraus | AP)
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 11:36 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse is carrying plenty of momentum into the 2023 season. Some of it, unfortunately, is heading in the wrong direction for head coach Dino Babers.

Entering his eighth season, Babers has been challenged to fill several key holes on both his roster and staff following a year in which the Orange turned an encouraging and unexpected 6-0 start into a 7-6 finish, ending with a loss to Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl.

While the bowl berth and winning record were the Atlantic Coast Conference program’s first since 2018, and the Orange climbed as high as No. 14 in the rankings, their second-half flop is what stands out, with injuries and a stiffer schedule playing contributing factors.

The ups then downs led to athletic director John Wildhack having to answer what’s become a familiar offseason question regarding the long-term status of Babers, who is believed to be signed through 2024.

“If we have success in 2023 and beyond, I hope coach Babers is here for a long time,” Wildhack said. “He wants to be here. We want him to be here.”

Quarterback Garrett Shrader confidently dismissed questions by saying: “This team is more than capable. ... We have talent across the board.”

Success hinges on several factors, starting with how quickly the team can adapt without record-setting running back Sean Tucker and All-ACC defensive back Garrett Williams, who both left early for the NFL. Also leaving the program through the transfer portal were cornerback Duce Chestnut and safety Ja’Had Carter, poised to be among the program’s biggest stars, and defensive lineman Jatius Greer.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae and defensive coordinator Tony White departed within 12 hours of each other.

There remain reasons for optimism amidst the headwinds.

Tucker’s replacement, LeQuint Allen, is eligible to play after the school suspended the running back this spring for his involvement in an off-campus altercation. Last month, Allen reached a settlement in his lawsuit against Syracuse allowing him to play.

All indications point to Shrader being ready to start the season after having elbow surgery. A dynamic dual threat, Shrader threw for 17 touchdowns and ran for nine more last season. He will be throwing to a receiving corps led by All-ACC preseason tight end Oronde Gadsden II (61 catches for 969 yards and six touchdowns). Returning receivers include 6-foot-6 junior Damien Alford and 6-4 junior Isaiah Jones.

Syracuse’s defense, which finished in the top 20 nationally last year, returns seven starters. The unit is anchored by a linebacking group headlined by Marlowe Wax Jr., Derek McDonald and Stefon Johnson. Safety Justin Barron, defensive back Alijah Clark and defensive lineman Caleb Okechukwu also return.


Allen, whose suspension would have disqualified him for the entire season, returned to the team in mid-August. The sophomore showed flashes of excellence a year ago, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in limited action. If the offensive line, led by returnee Chris Bleich, gels, putting points on the board shouldn’t be a problem.


Offensive coordinator Jason Beck, promoted from QBs coach, and defensive coordinator Rocky Long, who has coached for half-a-century, earned rave reviews from Syracuse players in the early going. Beck has a history of developing quarterbacks while Long, 73, is considered a mastermind and architect of the 3-3-5 defense that Syracuse has employed for several years.


How Syracuse fares could depend on its six transfers. On defense, the Orange landed defensive backs Jaeden Gould and Myles Farmer (Nebraska) and Jayden Bellamy (Notre Dame), and defensive lineman Braylen Ingraham (Alabama). Meantime, offensive linemen J’Onre Reed (JUCO) and Richmond transfer Joe More will be counted on to contribute.


Syracuse lost longtime placekicker Andre Szmyt and is looking for consistency at punter. Babers said he is feeling good about things with Missouri transfer punter Jack Stonehouse and walk-on placekicker Brady Denaburg. Returner Trebor Pena has already shown to be a difference maker.


Syracuse opens the season hosting Colgate on Sept. 2. The Orange’s season is likely to hinge on a perilous three-game stretch against teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25: Clemson at home Sept. 30 followed by road games at North Carolina and Florida State.