History will be made at Peden Stadium on Saturday as the Ohio Bobcats host an ACC team for the first time. This is the second time in the past four seasons that Syracuse begins its year on the road against a MAC school.
Back in 2018, the Orange won at Western Michigan in an extremely high-scoring game. Syracuse and Ohio have played twice previously, but those matchups came in 1916 and 1921, and the Orange won by a combined 111-0. Ohio is 4-27 against current ACC schools with its last contest coming back in 2019, a 20-10 loss at Pittsburgh.
Oddsmakers actually had the home team as a slight favorite in this one before money moved the Bobcats to an underdog. Ohio went 2-1 in its abbreviated MAC schedule last year with the wins coming against Akron and Bowling Green, the worst schools in the conference. The loss was by three points on the road against Central Michigan. The Bobcats have 17 starters back and are led by Tim Albin, who took over after 16 years as the school's offensive coordinator following long-time head coach Frank Solich's surprise retirement in July for health reasons. This is one of three games for Ohio in the span of 12 days to start out the 2021 schedule.
Meanwhile, last year was a miserable experience for the Orange, who went 1-10 with the lone victory coming in Week 3 against Georgia Tech. Syracuse lost all but two games by double digits as the offense sputtered and the defense struggled to make stops because they were on the field so much. However, the Orange have bounce-back potential with 19 returning starters and their next three contests at home.
Syracuse at Ohio
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept 4 at 7 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Syracuse -1.5
When Syracuse Has the Ball
It all starts with the quarterback where four different signal-callers played last year and none of them were all that spectacular; the group combined for 15 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions. It looks like Tommy DeVito will get the call after completing just 48 of 96 passes last season. DeVito is borderline immobile behind an offensive line that struggled to protect anyone (38 sacks allowed). The other option is Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader, who last took the field in 2019 for the Bulldogs. He provides much-need mobility but was a little behind in the preseason when it came to learning the playbook.
There's plenty of potential in the backfield with freshman Sean Tucker along with redshirt sophomore Cooper Lutz and junior Jarveon Howard. Tucker averaged 4.6 yards per carry and picked up four of the team's five rushing TDs. Wide receiver Nykeim Johnson transferred out of the program, meaning more will be expected out of junior Taj Harris and redshirt sophomore Anthony Queeley. The two combined for 95 receptions in 11 games. As mentioned previously, none of this matters if there's no improvement by the offensive line, although most of the starters are back so the experience gained from last season could benefit this group.
There's not a ton we can glean from last year for Ohio, who beat up on two awful squads and lost to Central Michigan in a close one. Jett Elad had two of the Bobcats' five interceptions. He returns along with seven starters on that side of the ball. Sophomore Jamison Collier had 19 tackles for Ohio, and four different players recorded at least one sack. Third-year defensive coordinator Ron Collins has done some fine work in his Bobcats tenure.
When Ohio Has the Ball
Albin named Kurtis Rourke the starting quarterback on Monday after the sophomore was a coldly efficient 30-of-44 for 386 yards with three touchdowns to no interceptions last season. Rourke was modestly mobile, but that was where UNLV transfer Armani Rogers came in. He attempted just nine passes but ran the ball 19 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Presumably, both quarterbacks will see time once again, although the hope is that Rogers will be able to pass a little more to keep opposing defenses honest. Last year's leading rusher De'Montre Tuggle returns after gaining 7.6 yards per carry in 2020. Leading receiver Shane Hooks is gone, but Isiah Cox is back, and he only had one less reception than Hooks.
Syracuse's defense allowed 30 points or more eight times in 2020. If you remember, they initially hired Zach Arnett as their defensive coordinator, but he left for Mississippi State after two weeks, so they moved on to Tony White, who had to teach them about the 3-3-5 alignment. The Orange just didn't do a lot right as a group, and the hope is that with a normal offseason, things can drastically improve. They've got a very good defensive line filled with seniors Josh Black, McKinley Williams, and Kingsley Jonathan. The trio combined for just six sacks but created plenty of pressure. The secondary lost some talent to the NFL and actually has freshman Darian Chestnut atop the depth chart at corner.
This is a really tough game to predict. Last year, the Orange looked really rough, and to ask them to go on the road to a rowdy MAC stadium filled with fans could be a tough task. DeVito was not very good in 2020, and if he starts slow once again, then the defense could run into some of the same issues as last year. On the other hand, last year didn't tell us much about Ohio other than they beat up on bad teams. The MAC team has home-field advantage and more consistency at quarterback, so I think Ohio gets the victory on Saturday in a tight affair.
Prediction: Ohio 24, Syracuse 20
Podcast: Week 1 Preview, Predictions & Spread Picks