It’s kind of amazing to look back over the historic numbers for Syracuse University football, when you consider some of the amazing talent that’s passed through the program. From Art Monk, to Rob Moore, to Qadry Ismail, to Marvin Harrison, the Orange have a history of producing terrific receivers, but looking back through the numbers, it’s a bit staggering to see how low the bar is for program records.
Of course, a lot of that is due to the changes to the game over the years and decades. Offenses are more high powered and air it out a lot more now than they ever did when, say, Monk was hauling in passes for Syracuse, and even when Harrison was earning All-America accolades. Harrison caught 135 balls in his career, good for fourth all-time in Orange history.
Astonishingly, that four year total for the greatest receiver in Syracuse history wouldn’t have even led Eastern Illinois for the 2012 season alone. And yes, there’s a reason I’m singling out that season: it was the first year of the Dino Babers head coaching era, and with Babers taking over at Syracuse, it’s almost certain that the record books are going to be rewritten in a hurry when it comes to the passing game.
In that 2012 season at Eastern Illinois, a receiver named Erik Lora caught a mind-boggling 136 passes, and just to reiterate, that’s more than Marvin Harrison – a guy who will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame sooner than later, and who holds the NFL record for receptions in a season – had in his entire Syracuse career. The following season, Lora caught 123 passes, and then Babers was off to Bowling Green.
In his first season at Bowling Green, Babers leaned on a true freshman receiver named Roger Lewis, who went out and caught 73 passes – which would have set a new single season mark at Syracuse. The current Syracuse record is 70 receptions, set by Alec Lemon in 2012. This season, Lewis caught 85 passes for 1,544 yards and 16 touchdowns. The receptions and yards would have shattered the Syracuse single season records (Harrison owns the best yardage total in Orange history with 1,131 yards), while the 16 touchdowns would also be a new Syracuse record, surpassing Tommy Kane’s 14 scores in 1987. And here’s the kicker: Lewis didn’t even lead his own team in receptions. No, that distinction belongs to Gehrig Dieter, who hauled in 95 receptions in 2015.
To put things in perspective even further: in the entire history of Syracuse University football, with all of the terrific wide receivers who have come and gone, there have only been three 1,000 yard receiving seasons in program history: Harrison’s 1,131 in 1995, Lemon’s 1,070 in 2012, and Moore’s 1,064 in 1989. That’s it. Those are the only 1,000 yard receivers that Syracuse has ever boasted.
Under the direction of Babers, both Lewis and Gehrig surpassed 1,000 yards in 2015, marking the second time in four years as a head coach that Dino’s offense has featured not one, but two 1,000 yard receivers. He’s had at least one 1,000 yard receiver in each of his four seasons as a head coach.
Look, it’s not exactly a secret that Dino Babers prefers a receiver friendly, fast paced, high scoring offense. Times are a hell of a lot different than when Syracuse’s all-time great receivers played. But that doesn’t change the fact that the record book should be cowering in fear right now, knowing it’s about to be ripped to shreds under the direction of Dino Babers, Sean Lewis, and Mike Lynch.
And Steve Ishmael should be the happiest person in Syracuse right about now. The rising junior receiver has been the clearcut top pass catcher in the program since he arrived in 2014, but hasn’t been featured nearly as much as Syracuse fans had hoped. In two seasons, he’s got 66 receptions – a total that would have been just the third best total on Bowling Green’s roster in 2015.
No one is going to be a bigger beneficiary of the new coaching staff than Ishmael, and the fact of the matter is that between the perfect passing conditions of the Carrier Dome, the speed of the turf, and the Babers offense are going to combine to create would very well could be a wide receiver’s paradise in Syracuse, New York.
The Orange are involved with a lot of terrific wide receiver prospects in the class of 2016, including Dez Fitzpatrick, Kelvin Harmon, Malik Harrison, Jerron Rollins, DeVaughn Cooper, Sean Riley, Alonge Brooks, and more. It might be a little too late to rope some of the bigger names in the group in to become part of the passing attack, but once recruits start seeing the kinds of numbers that Babers is able to put up game after game, this could very well become a prime destination for elite receivers.
Time will tell, but things are certainly looking up for the Orange football aerial attack.