The Syracuse University football team will kick off its first practice of the season today at the Ensley Athletic Center in Syracuse, entering its preseason training camp as a nationally ranked unit for the first time in 21 years.
The Orange was ranked No. 22 in the Preseason USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll that was released Thursday, ensuring SU will run through today’s first practice as a ranked team preparing for its Aug. 31 season opener at Liberty. The Associated Press Top 25 will be released Aug. 19.
SU finished 10-3 overall following its Camping World Bowl victory last year — the third season under head coach Dino Babers — and made its first national Top 25 appearance in 17 years during the breakout campaign.
The Orange’s last preseason Top 25 nod came ahead of the 1998 season entering iconic quarterback Donovan McNabb’s senior year.
The Orange was one of two Atlantic Coast Conference teams selected for the Preseason Coaches Poll and was joined by defending national champion Clemson, which secured the top spot in the rankings.
SU is set to open the year with newfound enthusiasm and eager expectations coming off a resurgent season, and here are a few things to watch as preseason camp unfolds this month.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito will look to begin asserting himself as the team leader, taking over under center for the graduated Eric Dungey, who was well-respected by his peers and provided a strong on-field presence during each of his four years.
DeVito doesn’t play the type of full-throttle, aggressive style that endeared Dungey to his teammates and fans alike, but he’s a talented pure passer that has already proven capable of guiding SU to victories when stepping in admirably against Florida State and North Carolina last year.
DeVito will be tasked with keeping the pace of an offense that averaged 40 points and 464 yards per game last year, but was a highly touted recruit that has waited his turn while studying Babers’ offense over the last two seasons.
Starting today, he should have every opportunity to leave his mark on the program.
SU lost three seniors from an experienced, cohesive offensive line that performed as strong as any unit on the team last year.
Among the biggest priorities for Babers and his offensive coaching staff this month is to mold a group of largely unfamiliar yet physically gifted parts in hopes of producing similar results.
Redshirt senior Evan Adams will anchor this year’s unit as one of the most experienced players on the roster, already with 33 starts to his credit. Redshirt junior Aaron Servais started at center in each of the past two years and is expected to remain a key linchpin up front, though he could shift to one of the vacated starting tackle positions.
Redshirt junior Sam Heckel should also provide a steady presence at either guard or center, and redshirt senior Ryan Alexander will receive ample opportunities after transferring to SU from South Alabama for his final collegiate season.
The Orange will look at a host of unproven players brimming with potential to fill out the depth chart.
DeVito will have no shortage of options to deliver the ball to at wide receiver or running back, which should lead to some intriguing competition among a group of potential standouts jockeying for their respective places in the Week 1 pecking order.
Senior halfback Moe Neal returns as the leading rusher after posting 869 yards at an average of 5.6 per carry last year, and his career yards-per-carry average of 5.4 ranks fifth in SU history.
Oklahoma junior transfer Abdul Adams, who debuted with two rushing touchdowns in the 2018 Camping World Bowl, should push Neal for carries along with sophomore Jarveon Howard, a physically-punishing rusher who scored seven rushing touchdowns as the primary short-yardage back last year.
Senior wide receiver/kick returner Sean Riley and junior Nykeim Johnson — each of whom provide a unique speed element and are listed at 5-foot-8 — along with sophomore Taj Harris and Michigan State transfer Trishton Jackson will begin the preseason atop a deep wide receiver depth chart that will compete for Week 1 targets throughout camp.
SU will enter the preseason with one of the most formidable defensive lines in the nation, led by seniors Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, and an All-American safety, sophomore Andre Cisco.
But the linebacker corps begins as a question mark following the graduation of SU’s two leading tacklers in 2018 — All-ACC second team linebacker Ryan Guthrie (107 tackles) and Kielan Whitner (100).
SU also lost its third linebacker from last year, Shyheim Cullen, who entered the NFL supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible for spring practices.
Seniors Andrew Armstrong and Lakiem Williams are expected to get the first chance to fill the two vacated starting spots in the 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
Armstrong has recorded 74 tackles in 37 games as a rotational contributor during his three seasons. Williams, a junior college transfer from Butte College in California, appeared in seven games last year and mostly lined up on special teams in his first season with SU.