Syracuse coach Dino Babers sees a somewhat reassuring positive as the opener of his fifth season at the helm of the Orange looms.
“I think the leadership is good,” Babers said Monday. “I think they’ve grown, not only on the football field but off the football field. There’s been a lot of mature, grown-up topics that they’ve been handling as young people, maybe some topics that the older generation should have took care of a long time ago.”
With COVID-19 all around and racial tensions across the country showing no signs of abating, that leadership is important as the Orange prepare to travel to play No. 18 North Carolina on Saturday in the opener for both teams. Four North Carolina players and one from Syracuse had opted out of the season so far because of concerns about the novel coronavirus, but that option remains on the table for every player and it could easily change the fortunes of any team.
Syracuse released its depth chart Monday night and notably absent were running backs Abdul Adams, a redshirt senior who transferred from Oklahoma in 2018, and junior Jarveon Howard. They were listed 1-2 on the spring depth chart and have been replaced by redshirt freshman Jawhar Jordan and redshirt junior Markenzy Pierre. Offensive lineman Dakota Davis also was not listed, and tight end/defensive lineman Chris Elmore is at left guard. Standout defensive back Andre Cisco is the rover in the new 3-3-5 scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Tony White.
“The big thing is the team needs to know certain things," Babers said. "The team needs to know who are they going to have running out of the tunnel with them, and I think for the most part that time’s passed. They still have options to do things because there’s options for them in fine print. But from a moral and spiritual standpoint, they need to let the rest of the family know what’s going on and I think that point has come.”
The Orange were listed as 22-point underdogs on Monday.
“It’s going to be a test, but it’s not going to be a gauge," Babers said. “No football teams have gone through what we’ve gone through, what all the teams have gone through this year. Coaches really have to take a step back and players are really going to get to step up. It’s really a player’s game this year until you can get three, four games in and really know what your team can and can’t do so you can help them as coaches.”
Syracuse started last season with high hopes after winning 10 games the previous year and flopped early after posting a season-opening shutout, losing four straight games at one point and finishing 5-7, 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. With all but one of the 11 games on the revised schedule in the conference, that has left the Orange with a daunting task — facing not only the Tar Heels but top-ranked Clemson, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Notre Dame, ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll, on the road.
“When you look at the schedule, compared to what it was, it’s probably the toughest schedule that I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here," Babers said. "And I’m not sure anybody’s got a tougher road schedule in the country.”
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