Syracuse star Amba Etta-Tawo on pace for monster season

Stew Milne/AP

The preseason spotlight fell on Syracuse receiver Steve Ishmael as the projected No. 1 beneficiary of Dino Babers’ high-octane offense this season, but a graduate transfer has stolen the show.

Former Maryland receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, who entered the season with a single-season career high of just 500 yards with the Terrapins, is college football’s out-of-nowhere receiving star, posting four consecutive games of at least 100 yards to open the campaign. The Powder Springs, Ga., product found yet another gear in a 31-24 win over UConn on Saturday afternoon.

Etta-Tawo set the school’s single-game receiving record with 270 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskies, breaking a record set in 1985. Five of his 12 catches went for at least 24 yards. Ten of Etta-Tawo’s receptions went for a first down or touchdown — necessary production in a tightly contested game. He is now averaging 176.5 yards per game with five touchdowns. (As a reference point, no FBS wide receiver this decade has averaged more than 150 yards per game.)

To be fair, not even his new coach saw this coming.

“He's been a pleasant surprise,” Dino Babers said. Obviously, we had no idea he'd be able to do the things that he's done so far. But it doesn't surprise me with the work ethic that he put in when he started here, coming in the summer, working with (quarterback) Eric Dungey, the way he goes about his work in practice.”

Added Dungey on the College Countdown podcast this past week: “He’s my guy on and off the field. Mostly off the field, we’ve just got a really good relationship. When he came in here, I went out of my way to help him get accustomed to what’s going on and just be around him. I knew he was a special player. … Right now Amba’s just rolling.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-video” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>GO LONG! <a href=””>@CuseFootball</a> with the DEEP pass for the connection. <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) <a href=””>September 24, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src=”//” charset=”utf-8″></script>

If there was any remaining skepticism on the 6-foot-2 senior’s production — keep in mind he reached the century mark against Louisville’s defense, too — it was all but erased with the fourth-highest single-game receiving total in ACC history. In a conference that boasted one 1,000-yard receiver in 2015, Etta-Tawo has 706 yards in just four games. He leads the next-closest wideout (Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford) by more than 300 yards already.

“I’m just so glad that he found us and we found him,” Dungey said.

Etta-Tawo was deservedly added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List last week. He might find himself listed as a frontrunner after his latest performance.