To say 2019 was a disappointment for the Syracuse Orange may actually be an understatement. The Orange entered the campaign with a ton of momentum and eyeballs on the team, and they were hyped to be the sleeper in the ACC. Some thought they could even beat Clemson and represent the Atlantic Division.
The year started out with a shaky 24-0 victory at Liberty that saw the offense struggle and the defense have to step up. What followed were two blowout losses before two straight wins and a 3-2 record. Momentum from those two victories dissipated quickly as the offensive line struggled and the defense got gashed. All of a sudden, a bowl was out of the picture and changes had to be made.
5 Storylines to Watch During Syracuse's Spring Practice
1. New coaches on the staff
Syracuse has had two different defensive coordinators this offseason already. In January, the program hired Zach Arnett away from San Diego State with the expectation that they were going to install the 3-3-5 defense that he ran successfully with the Aztecs. Problem was that Arnett quickly took a job with Mississippi State under Mike Leach, leaving the school scrambling for someone new. In came Tony White, who learned about the 3-3-5 from Rocky Long while at SDSU. White was the cornerbacks coach/defensive passing game coordinator for Arizona State the past two seasons.
The changes didn't stop there as Sterlin Gilbert came over to become the new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Gilbert worked with head coach Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, so he knew what to expect. The past few seasons, he coordinated offenses for Texas and South Florida before going to McNeese State to be their head coach. It'll be important for both sides of the ball to start to learn their playbooks.
2. Is Dino Babers for real?
With all the changes to the coaching staff, it'll be hard to get an accurate gauge on Babers, but it could be time to really put him under the microscope. Babers went 19-7 at Eastern Illinois and then 18-9 at Bowling Green. Over his four years in Central New York, the coach has one winning season back in 2018 with a special quarterback in Eric Dungey. His other three years the team went 4-8, 4-8, and 5-7 with exactly two ACC wins in each campaign. I don't know how hot his seat is, but if he doesn't make another bowl game in 2020, then he could be looking for a new job.
3. Can Tommy DeVito take the next step?
DeVito put up some glossy numbers with 19 touchdowns and a 63.2 percent completion rate, but he was relatively statuesque in the pocket and was on his butt quite often behind a leaky offensive line. He's expected to start once again in 2020, and the hope is that Sterlin Gilbert can work with him on his poor decision making and teach him a better feel in the pocket. There are four potential candidates to be his backup, and none of them are all that glamorous right now. We'll see if someone can stand out and put some pressure on DeVito should he continue to struggle.
4. Who are the weapons?
Leading rusher Moe Neal's departure will be felt as he galvanized the Orange's offense each of the last two years. It'll be imperative for at least one of Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard to take over, as well as freshman Jawhar Jordan who got hs feet wet but maintained his redshirt. Adams and Howard have the ability to provide size and speed in two different players. There are some intriguing options in Sean Tucker and Marlowe Wax who could also add some depth.
Out wide, Trishton Jackson and Sean Riley depart after accumulating 41 percent of the team's catches and 45 percent of their yards. The team will count on wide receiver Taj Harris and tight end Aaron Hackett to step in and step up, but there are a boatload of other options. Incoming freshmen Damien Alford and Steven Mahar Jr. are notable for their 6-foot-5 frames. Someone has to step into Jackson's massive shoes, though, and that'll be something to watch.
5. Defense, defense, defense
It will be really hard to replace two of the best defensive linemen in the ACC in Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson. Departing with them are a host of linebackers and a couple of starters in the secondary in Christopher Fredrick and Evan Foster. The back end could be fine though if Trill Williams continues to be a playmaker alongside Ifeatu Melifonwu at corner. Andre Cisco is back at safety, and he's the nation's active leader in interceptions. Upfront, Syracuse is hoping for a healthy McKinley Williams, who missed most of the 2019 campaign. He'll form a solid duo with Josh Black, depending upon how the team deploys their starters up front. It'll be interesting to see how they mold the experience they do have into the 3-3-5.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.