No. 22 Syracuse gets opening test at Liberty

Field Level Media

August 27, 2019 at 5:17 pm.

The anticipation is building for No. 22 Syracuse, which opens a season of heightened expectations.

The Orange will find out how they stack up against top-ranked Clemson in two weeks, but they must first navigate two nonconference road games, starting with a visit to Liberty on Saturday night, followed by a trip to Maryland.

The Orange are coming off their first winning season since 2013 and their first 10-win season since 2001. Last year, Syracuse finished No. 15 in the AP poll thanks to quarterback Eric Dungey passing for 2,868 yards, but Dungey graduated and coach Dino Babers is hoping sophomore Tommy DeVito can be just as effective as his predecessor.

“We need to be sure that we stay locked in and let the process happen,” Babers said.

“We have a very difficult nonconference schedule. We’re away for (the first) two games on the road. That’s not what you want to do with a football team that has the chance to do the things that people think we can do that the media has been talking about.”

DeVito is hardly a novice, having completed 50.6 percent of his passes (44 of 87) while appearing in eight games last season. Heading into his first collegiate start, he is supported by numerous veterans, including running back Moe Neal and wideout Sean Riley.

“I don’t know if anyone’s ready to step into that role,” Babers said. “But I know this — he is going to be the guy that’s going to have the ball, and the guy that has the ball has a lot to say about what’s going to happen, whether it’s a positive or a negative.”

Syracuse is playing a true road game in its season opener for the first time since meeting Akron in 2010. The Orange will be Liberty’s first home opponent from a Power 5 conference and its first home game at 25,000-seat Williams Stadium against a ranked opponent.

Liberty, coming off a 6-6 season, is entering its second season as an FBS independent and has a new coach very familiar to big games in Hugh Freeze. He was 39-25 on the field in five seasons with Ole Miss (the NCAA vacated 29 of those wins due to sanctions) before resigning in 2017 due to personal misconduct.

Freeze underwent back surgery for a staph infection on Aug. 16 and conducted recent practices from a hotel room near the school. Doctors had yet to determine if he would be able to coach on the field or from the coaches’ box.

“I’m just anxious about seeing our team compete,” Freeze said. “Obviously I wish things were a little bit different for me, but I think that our staff and our kids have been remarkable in how they’ve handled it.”

Freeze and his coaching staff also might be anxious about depth at wide receiver.

Redshirt freshman Noah Frith (fractured left foot) will sit out, while Khaleb Coleman (left knee) and CJ Yarbrough (concussion protocol) are questionable. Those absences mean projected starters Antonio Gandy-Golden and Kevin Shaa could have little help.

Whoever gets the touches at wideout will be catching passes from senior Stephen Calvert, who has thrown 65 touchdown passes to 33 interceptions in 34 career games, with a career completion percentage of 56.8 (647 of 1,139). Two years ago, Calvert threw for 447 yards and three TDs in a season-opening 48-45 upset at Baylor.

Liberty is 0-6 all-time against ACC opponents.