We’re less than a month away from National Signing Day, which comes this year on February 3, and these final few weeks should see a flurry of activity for the Syracuse University football program and new head coach Dino Babers. With the dead period in place until January 13, that leaves an even more truncated final push for Babers and his staff. So what are some things to watch for as we head down the home stretch?
As it currently stands, Syracuse has 13 commitments in the class of 2016: Kenneth Ruff, Carl Jones, Liam O’Sullivan, Airon Servais, Lindsey Scott, Moe Neal, Jamal Holloway, Monquavion Brinson, Sam Heckel, Taylor Riggins, Scoop Bradshaw, Rex Culpepper, and Sadiq Palmer. It remains to be seen whether all of those names will remain in the final class, of course.
The two names to keep an eye on most of all are Taylor Riggins and Sadiq Palmer, two recruits who have had limited contact with the new staff and would appear to be a bit on the outside looking in. Both players have been told their scholarship offers are still good, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if either – or both – move on, with Palmer being more likely than Riggins. It would be good to see Riggins maintain his place in the class, in large part because of what he represents: a New York kid from one of the top programs in the state, and if Babers truly wants to start close to home and spiral out with regard to recruiting, keeping a kid like that could be important. It doesn’t hurt that Riggins is a terrific athlete, but he’s in a hard situation because he earned his offer after competing in a camp run by the previous staff – which obviously Babers and his staff weren’t there to witness.
Monquavion Brinson seemed to be teetering on the edge but seems to have been reaffirmed recently, and the talented 3-star cornerback from Georgia appears to be fully committed to the Orange at present and can probably be removed from decommit-watch.
Ruff, a big, talented linebacker who is one of the most recent commitments, is going to be on campus at the end of next week, along with Moe Neal and Rex Culpepper, as all three are January enrollees and will be ready to hit the ground running this spring. With the departure of Chris Beatty after his exceptionally brief “stint” as a Syracuse head coach there was some fear that Ruff might flip to Maryland, but right now, Ruff appears to be firmly behind his Syracuse commitment. Heck, just last night he was tweeting about packing for college while watching The Express.
So what does that leave? Well, some of that depends on the final number of recruits Syracuse is able to bring in this year, and who else might be lost to attrition. That will not only determine the number of spots left available, but also potentially impact positions of need. Syracuse has already lost AJ Long to transfer, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Austin Wilson follow suit. That would leave Eric Dungey as the only returning scholarship quarterback, alongside walk-on Zack Mahoney and incoming freshmen Scott and Culpepper. If Wilson does indeed leave, that leaves Syracuse woefully thin at the position, even if Mahoney gets awarded a scholarship – which is less of a sure thing now with the coaching staff change.
That’s probably a big part of why the new staff is still pursuing options at quarterback, including 4-star recruit Devon Modster as well as transfer options like Kyle Allen and Davis Webb. Dungey will obviously enter 2016 season as the starting QB but as we’ve seen the past two seasons, and with Dungey himself, injuries can and will happen. Assuming Wilson is gone, there’s a very real chance that the second string QB next season will be a true freshman, which is why it makes sense that the staff is pursuing a third signal caller in this current class.
Syracuse will also continue pursuing options at running back, with Kentrail Moran the biggest name among the group they’re currently chasing. The 4-star Illinois commit is set to visit on January 22, which is also the weekend fellow RB recruit Sam Brodner, a Vanderbilt decommit who was recently named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois. The weekend before that, another committed running back will be visiting – Anthony Julmisse, a speedy Florida native who is currently pledged to Colorado. He’ll be visiting the weekend of January 15 alongside his friend, fellow Colorado commit, and big-time wide receiver target Johnny Huntley.
Huntley leads us into wide receiver recruiting. This is obviously another big position of need for the Orange, because while Steve Ishmael and Brisly Estime certainly have talent and we could (and perhaps will) see Erv Philips and Moe Neal in the slot next season, more receivers are needed to run the Dino Babers offense. Huntley would be the big prize if Syracuse can flip him, but chances are he and Julmisse will remain a package deal so the coaches will have to win over both recruits in order to get either of them.
Another name to monitor at receiver is Ahmed Bah, a 6-foot-4 talent from New York who decommitted from Rutgers and appears to be firmly on the new staff’s radar. One more receiver to keep an eye on at the moment is junior college talent Alonge Brooks, a 6-foot-3, physically gifted wideout originally from Texas who is currently starting to get attention from Temple, as well. He’s in line for a visit from Babers once the dead period is over.
Other positions to watch for are defensive line – particularly DE – as well as defensive back and linebacker. Andrew Armstrong is a guy we’ve talked about before at the linebacker position, and both he and defensive end prospect Drew Beesley are not only Bowling Green decommits (therefore making Syracuse the heavy favorite for both), but they’ll both be visiting on January 15. Another Bowling Green decommit at a position of need is Evan Foster, a safety who is planning an official visit on January 22. To be perfectly frank, I would be surprised if Armstrong, Beesley, and Foster don’t all pledge to the Orange either during or shortly following their official visits.
Speaking of Fosters, another name to keep an eye on is Sean Foster, a 4-star offensive tackle who would immediately become arguably the gem of this year’s recruiting class. It’ll be tough to sway Foster, who is visiting Iowa State – currently the favorite for his services – on January 22. There’s no official visit set up for Foster yet, but if the coaches can get him on campus on January 15, for example, the Orange will have a very realistic shot and reeling him in.
Going back to the defensive line, Joshua Black is another name to continue monitoring as we head down the home stretch. Currently he’s an Illinois commit, but like fellow Illini commit Moran he’s taking an official visit to Syracuse this month as well. Black will be on campus the same weekend as Moran, January 22, and will absolutely be on flip-watch during his visit. As a defensive end, he’s at a position of dire need and the fact that he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time immediately will be a big part of the sell for him.
Jerrion Nelson is another defensive line prospect to watch, and would be among the better recruits in Syracuse’s class if the Orange are able to get a pledge. The 6-foot-2, 250 pound defensive end recently told 247Sports that Syracuse is among his final four schools, alongside Iowa State, Purdue, and Tulsa. The Semper Fi Bowl participant doesn’t currently have a Syracuse visit planned, but went on to tell 247 that he’s hoping to make it to campus soon. While playing time is an attractive part of the pitch, this one might be decided by location, as Nelson has mentioned being able to stay close to home as a potentially important part of the decision for the Columbia, Missouri native. He’s currently planning on announcing his decision on signing day.
Those are the big names to keep an eye on as we start getting closer to signing day, but some others to monitor include cornerback Marquis Smith, defensive end Joshua Uche, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, safety Devon Clarke, and a dark horse to potentially flip is defensive end Rashad Weaver. It’s not likely he’ll be flipping from Michigan, but it’s worth noting that he and Syracuse secondary coach and primary Florida recruiter Nick Monroe are now following each other on Twitter.
More names will certainly come up as things start getting fast and furious – without Vin Diesel, sadly – over these next few weeks. It looks like it’ll be a fun, exciting, and potentially frustrating month for Syracuse football fans.