SYRACUSE — The Syracuse University football quarterback competition appears poised to extend into the season opener Saturday night at Ohio.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers has indicated that incumbent Tommy DeVito holds the edge for the starting spot over Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader but stated in his most recent press conference that both are likely to see the field.
“We want to play both guys, we’re going to play both guys, and we’re going to have to see how it goes in the games,” Babers said last week. “I think both of those guys are good enough that they need to be on the football field.”
DeVito, the 6-foot-2 and 215-pound redshirt junior, has shown flashes in parts of three seasons and enters ranked eighth all-time at SU for passer rating (128.1) and seventh in career touchdown passes (27). DeVito made just four starts last year before suffering a season-ending leg injury.
Shrader — the 6-foot-4 and 230-pound sophomore dual threat — was one of three FBS freshmen to record both 1,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in 2019 but made just four appearances last season prior to his transfer from the Bulldogs.
Babers has not stated whether he will declare a starter under center prior to Saturday night and declined to divulge any further details on plans for the potential split earlier last week.
Here is a look at the rest of the Orange by position for the upcoming season.
Returning freshman Sean Tucker (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) is on the Doak Walker Award watch list and the likely favorite to lead a rushing unit boosted by two veterans back in the mix to challenge for touches.
Tucker started eight of his nine games last year and ran for an average of 69.9 yards, the second-most by a freshman in SU history. Redshirt senior Abdul Adams (5-11, 210) and junior short-yardage grinder Jarveon Howard (5-11, 205) have each returned after opting out due to COVID-19 concerns last year.
Taj Harris (6-2, 180) highlights the Orange pass-catchers and enters tied with Marvin Harrison for sixth in SU history with 135 career receptions. The three-year starter at wide receiver was named All-ACC third team last year and is on the Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List. He has 1,857 career receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 34 games.
Anthony Queeley (6-2, 205) is back after finishing as the second-leading receiver to Harris last season, while Courtney Jackson (5-11, 185) is expected to be next in line for targets. Sophomore Luke Benson (6-4, 240) is pegged to start as the only returning tight end.
Syracuse enters with experience in its top-six offensive line rotation but health will be the key after injuries have depleted the unit in consecutive years, finishing among the 10 FBS teams with the most sacks allowed each season.
Chris Bleich (6-6, 320) sat out 2020 to comply with former NCAA transfer rules but is expected to provide a steady presence at guard in his first season after leaving Florida. Redshirt junior Dakota Davis (6-5, 325) is back after missing most of last season due to injury. Both players missed practice time recently but participated in SU’s Fan Fest walkthrough on Friday night.
Redshirt senior Airon Servais (6-6, 300), Matthew Bergeron (6-5, 315), Darius Tisdale (6-5, 300) and Carlos Vettorello (6-4, 295) are all returning starters.
Half of SU’s returning “super seniors,” will start along the front of SU’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
Kingsley Jonathan (6-4, 260), Josh Black (6-3, 290), and McKinley Williams (6-4, 285) will lead the way while fellow returning senior Cody Roscoe (6-1, 275) is next in line. Williams has missed recent practice time with an undisclosed illness.
All-ACC honorable mention linebacker Mikel Jones (6-1, 220) contributed to eight SU takeaways last year, the most of any FBS player, including an ACC-leading four interceptions. The sophomore is on the Butkus Award Watch List and headlines an emerging unit with returning starters Stefon Thompson (6-1, 235) and Geoff Cantin-Arku (6-4, 230).
Redshirt freshman cornerback Garrett Williams (6-0, 190) led the ACC with 12 passes defended, ranking seventh nationally and second among all FBS rookies. His 5.8 tackles per game also led all ACC cornerbacks, and he was named All-ACC Honorable Mention and Freshman All-American.
Williams will lead a young secondary featuring returning freshmen Rob Hanna (6-0, 170), Ja’Had Carter (6-2, 200) and Aman Greenwood (5-10, 185) as potential starters vying for spots along with redshirt junior Eric Coley (6-2, 200) and true freshman Darian Chestnut (6-0, 195).
Kicker Andre Szmyt is on the Lou Groza Award Watch List and enters ranked third in SU history for field goals made (56) and ranks fourth in career points (291).
Syracuse should be in store for a bounce-back year and into bowl contention after a myriad of issues — namely key injuries, opt-outs, and the lack of fan presence in the Carrier Dome — intertwined for a bizarre 1-10 season.
With returning starters at nearly every position, a full spring session and training camp with second-year coordinators Sterlin Gilbert (offense) and Tony White (defense), expect Syracuse to finish 6-6 overall and post a strong home record at the re-energized Dome.