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Sneak Peek At 2015 Syracuse Football Season

It was a long and trying season for the Syracuse Orange football team in 2014, but it’s finally over. To its credit, the Orange defense stood tall all season and deserved so much better than the support provided by the Syracuse offense, a unit that was decimated by injuries, making it difficult to generate anything substantial all season. There’s not much the Orange can do but chalk up a 3-9 season to an inordinate amount of injuries and hope for better fortune next season. With 2014 officially over for Syracuse, here’s a position-by-position preview of what to expect from the Orange in 2015.

 

Quarterback – Syracuse could have a rather interesting quarterback battle during spring practice after freshmen A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, and Mitch Kimble all saw the field this season following the season-ending injury to Terrel Hunt. Incoming freshman Alin Edouard could also become a factor in a wide-open quarterback competition this spring. Of course, none of the Syracuse freshmen played particularly well during the second half of the season, so the job should still be Hunt’s lose when he gets healthy, although he’ll certainly have some competitors to fend off if he expects to start in 2015.

 

Running back – The Orange will lose Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, but they have the depth at running back to survive those losses. George Morris and Devante McFarlane have seen some action the past two seasons and will now have a chance to play prominent roles, and both should be ready. Ervin Phillips should also be featured prominently in the Syracuse backfield next season after a promising freshman campaign. If those three aren’t enough, the Orange have a few incoming freshmen that should be able to provide additional depth at the running back spot.

 

Wide receiver – This position still isn’t an area of strength for Syracuse, but there’s enough at this position to feel optimistic once the Orange get healthy. Steve Ishmael had a few flashes of brilliance as a true freshman this year, and he could form a formidable trio next season alongside Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, two players who missed most of 2014 with injuries. In addition to those three, Ben Lewis brings a reliable set of hands to the table, while Alvin Cornelius and Sean Avant are both players who could carve out bigger roles in 2015. Syracuse also has a couple of young receivers with great size in Jamal Custis and Adly Enoicy who could become factors in the passing game in 2015.

 

Offensive line – This unit needs to be a lot better next season, and while they may benefit from getting healthy and giving a lot of players experience in 2014, they’ll also lose left tackle Sean Hickey and center John Miller. Jason Emerich figures to step in at center, and there are three good options at the two guard spots with Rob Trudo, Nick Robinson, and Omari Palmer, who are all experienced players. However, Hickey leaves a huge hole on the left side, and the Orange will need younger players to show improvement and push older players for starting spots, as they need to build more depth up front and create a much stronger and consistent offensive line in 2015.

 

Defensive line – Three starters players are gone from this unit in tackle Eric Crume and ends Micah Robinson and Rob Welsh, but the Orange front-four is in relatively good shape. Syracuse retains some size in the middle with Wayne Williams, John Raymon, and Marcus Coleman, which may enable them to move Ron Thompson back to defensive end, where he has the athleticism to be an impact pass rusher. Syracuse will need to get more out of Isaiah Johnson and Donnie Simmons on the outside, while redshirt freshman Chris Slayton could be a player to watch at defensive end. It’ll be a rebuilding year up front with the loss of Crume, Robinson, and Welsh, but Syracuse should have enough to put together a solid defensive line.

 

Linebacker – Replacing both Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis seems like an impossible task, but the Syracuse linebacker corps may not necessarily take a big step backwards. Zaire Franklin was impressive late in the season and appears to have the tools to play middle linebacker, which will allow Marque Hodge to move outside linebacker after a solid sophomore season in the middle. The Orange may also be able to get an extra year of eligibility from Luke Arciniega to help complete its starting lineup. If not, both Jonathan Thomas and Parris Bennett both saw the field as true freshman in 2014, which should have them ready to play bigger roles in 2015, while redshirt freshman Colton Moskal and a few incoming freshmen could be in the mix as well, giving Syracuse plenty of options to rebuild its depth at the linebacker position.

 

Secondary – This unit could have some issues, as the Orange will lose cornerback Brandon Reddish and safeties Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir. If Durrell Eskridge leaves early for the NFL, the Syracuse secondary will be filled with youth and inexperience in 2015. The Orange will have a few cornerbacks with experience coming back in Julian Whigham and Wayne Morgan, while Antwan Cordy and Corey Winfield saw some action later in the season. However, without Edkridge, the Orange will have no experience at safety outside of special teams contributions from Chauncey Scissum and Rodney Williams. This could prompt moving Morgan safety if Scott Shafer feels his young cornerbacks are ready for bigger roles, but either way the Orange may need a few true freshmen to contribute in the secondary next year.

 

Overall – Despite a 3-9 record, the Syracuse defense played well throughout 2014, but it’s unrealistic to think they can play at the same level in 2015 after the loss of seven, possibly eight, starters. There is enough talent to give the Orange a solid defense, but experience could be an issue, as could depth, making Syracuse vulnerable to injuries on that side of the ball. This puts a lot of pressure on the Orange offense to get healthy and come back strong in 2015. The Orange should have the skill players to move the ball effectively, assuming they can effectively sort out a potentially complicated situation at quarterback. But how good the Orange offense will be in 2015, and how good the Orange are as a team in 2015, could be dependent on whether or not the offensive line can show substantial improvement.

LSU Thankful To End 2014 On A High Note

In terms of postseason play and bowl games, there wasn’t a whole lot on the line when LSU played Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. Both teams have long since been eliminated from contention in the SEC West, meaning neither had much to gain or much to lose from the game, outside of pride. But after suffering two straight losses, LSU was grateful to sneak out of Kyle Field with a win on Thursday night, as it allowed the Tigers to end the 2014 season on a high note, helping to set them up for what could be a big season in 2015.

 

A loss against A&M would have changed the narrative for LSU’s 2014 season, as well as the outlook for the 2015 season. A loss would have meant a three-game losing streak to finish the season, a 7-5 record heading into bowl season, and a losing record in conference play, all of which would have been unacceptable for a program like LSU that expects to compete for championships on a yearly basis. A loss to the Aggies, especially on the heels of a shutout loss to Arkansas, also could have given the Tigers the distinction of being the worst steam in the SEC West. Obviously, being the worst team in the SEC West isn’t all that bad, but it would have made it harder to believe the Bayou Bengals are on the verge of returning to the top of the SEC in 2015.

 

Instead, a win against Texas A&M helped the Tigers save face on what has been a down year and a rebuilding season for LSU. An 8-4 record and a 4-4 record in the SEC is acceptable for such a young LSU team, and is the best record the Tigers could have hoped for this season, especially considering how fortunate they’ve been to win so many close games this year, including this one in which LSU failed to put away the Aggies when they had a chance, forcing them to survive a 4th quarter comeback. Of course, being able to hold on against a furious comeback on the road is a sign of maturity and improvement from such a young LSU team. After all, young teams are supposed to improve throughout the course of the season and be at their best late in the season, and there were signs of that from the Tigers.

 

One area where LSU excelled against A&M was in the running game, which the Tigers hope to use as the backbone of their team in 2015. LSU gained 384 yards against the Aggies, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, with most of the yards coming from true freshman Leonard Fournette and quarterback Anthony Jennings. Despite his issues throwing the ball this season, Jennings has become a threat running the ball over the final month of the season, making the LSU rushing attack even more dangerous. With a force of nature like Fournette as the lead back and a capable runner like Jennings at quarterback, the Tigers will bring a powerful rushing attack into 2015, one that could be elite if LSU’s young receivers can show improvement and bring some balance to the offense next season.

 

That dominating running game for LSU helped the Tigers to control the ball against A&M and put the Tiger defense in a great position, where its pass rush could attack, while the Aggies were forced to challenge an LSU secondary that is the strength of the defense. That formula delivered a much-needed win for LSU to close out the 2014 regular season on a positive note and create momentum looking ahead towards 2015, while also providing a blueprint for what the Tigers could look like next season, when they’ll once again expect to compete for a championship.

10 Syracuse Seniors That Will Be Tough To Replace

After the Syracuse football team plays Boston College this weekend, the Orange will say goodbye to more than 20 seniors that have been key contributors to the re-building of the program over the past four years. This year’s senior class has had quite a whirlwind career, playing in two bowl games, two different conferences, and for two different coaches. When this group leaves, despite their struggles this season, they will leave some big shoes for Syracuse to fill. Here are 10 seniors that will be difficult for the Orange to replace in 2015.

 

Micah Robinson – He’s been one of the unsung heroes of the defense the past few seasons. Robinson hasn’t put up gaudy numbers or been a standout pass rusher, but he’s been a key part of the defensive line, helping that unit get a push and stand tall against the run. The Orange may have more talented players ready to step in his place, but his experience and work rate will be tough to replace next year.

 

Robert Welsh – Like Robinson, Welsh is a starter along the defensive line who will be tough to replace. Welsh has been involved in plenty of game-changing plays over the last few seasons and he’s been a steady contributor in both the running game and the pass rush, and it’ll be tough to find a replacement for him that brings that kind of consistency to the defensive line.

 

Jarrod West – Syracuse does have a few promising freshmen receivers that can help fill the void left by West, but it’ll still be tough to lose someone who’s been such a steady contributor over the past four years. West shook off a rough junior year in 2013 and has become the team’s top receiver this season and a reliable target for the team’s young quarterbacks. His experience, his knowledge of the offense, and his leadership will all be tough to replace, not to mention the important catches he’s made over the course of his career.

 

Ritchy Desir – The numbers aren’t gaudy, but Desir has been a frequent contributor in the secondary over the past four years, as well as the team’s top punt returner. His stats don’t show it, but Desir’s hands and ability to field punts instead of letting them roll has saved Syracuse a lot of yards in field position over the years, and that’s an under-rated part of football that the Orange will have to replace next year.

 

Sam Rodgers – Syracuse hasn’t always been sound in the kicking game over the past few years, but snaps have rarely been an issue, and credit for that belongs to Rodgers. He’s had a relatively small role for the Orange, but he’s done it well and gone underappreciated. Rodgers has so much respect from his teammates that he was elected a captain this season, and it won’t be easy to lose a player like that.

 

Eric Crume – Much like Jay Bromley last season, Crume leaves big shoes to fill along the defensive line. He’s been an important reason why the Orange defense has been solid all season, especially against the run. Production and depth on the interior of the defensive line was a question heading into the season, and the departure of Crume will create similar questions heading into next season.

 

Dyshawn Davis – It’s always difficult to replace a four-year starter, and Davis will be no different. He’s been a playmaker and one of the top players on the Syracuse defense since he stepped on campus. Heading into the final game of his career, he has 7.5 sacks, 36 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, and one season-changing touchdown against Pittsburgh in 2012. Davis deserves to be mentioned in the long line of great Syracuse linebackers and finding someone to fill his shoes in 2015 will not be easy.

 

Cameron Lynch – He may be a bit undersized, but athletes like Lynch are tough to find, especially for Syracuse, and that’s going to make him tough to replace next season. Lynch has been a two-year starter and a contributor all four years at Syracuse, during which time he’s been one of the team’s best pass rushers, as he heads into his final game in Orange with 16.5 career sacks. The Orange may have some promising young linebackers, but all of them have a long way to go to fill the void left by Lynch.

 

Brandon Reddish – Reddish has had a tremendous senior season and made a countless number of big plays for the Orange defense. With a thin secondary, Syracuse has leaned on Reddish a lot this season and he’s done well to deliver. The Orange will be young in the secondary in 2015, and it’ll be difficult to find a cornerback that can play to the level that Reddish has played this season.

 

Sean Hickey – The Orange offensive line has had its share of problems this year, and fixing those issues in 2015 won’t be easy without a top-notch left tackle like Hickey. Even if Syracuse didn’t have so many problems up front, replacing a three-year starter who will be playing on Sundays next year would not be easy, making Hickey perhaps the toughest player Syracuse will have to replace next season.

LSU is Set Up For Success in 2015

The 2014 football season has not been a typical one for the LSU Tigers. With one game left in the regular season, the Bayou Bengals are a non-factor in the SEC West race and are not even ranked in the top-25 nationally. The Tigers have suffered two home losses this season, putting a couple chinks in Tiger Stadium’s armor. LSU was also fortunate to escape with a victory against Wisconsin, Florida, and Ole Miss, three games that easily could have gone the other way and turned a down season in Baton Rouge into a disastrous season. But as difficult as 2014 was for LSU, the future remains bright, as the Tigers are set well for 2015.

 

The young Tiger defense, which struggled the first half of the season, has grown by leaps and bounds the second half of the season and now looks the part of an elite SEC defense. With only a few seniors receiving meaningful playing time on that side of the ball, the LSU defense in 2015 may be able to rise to the level of the Tiger defenses of recent years that put the Bayou Bengals in contention for a national championship.

 

The LSU secondary has been exceptional this season, with a trio of standout cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White, Jalen Collins, and Rashard Robinson. All three have the ability to matchup one-on-one with nearly any wide receiver in the country, and will continue to make LSU strong against the pass. As good as the secondary looks for 2015, LSU’s linebackers may be even better. As the trio of Kendell Beckwith, Kwon Alexander, and Lamar Louis may be among the best in the country next season after strong play the second half of 2014. Finally, while the LSU defensive line has just 10 sacks in 11 games this season, it’s filled with young players that will continue to get better, as well as a blossoming star in Danielle Hunter.

 

The offensive side of the ball is not as promising for LSU, but there is still a lot to look forward to in 2015. The Tigers will lose running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but they will return the freshmen duo of Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams, a tandem that should give LSU a potent rushing attack next year. The LSU offensive line will lose three seniors, but with the injuries that unit has suffered this year, plenty of younger guys have gained valuable experience, which should help them jumpstart the Tiger’s rushing attack in 2015.

 

Despite struggles at the quarterback position this year that have held the Tigers back, things may be better in 2015 if Brandon Harris takes the reigns, especially if he becomes the starter late in 2014. Harris has the talent to be one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks, and by the start of his sophomore season he may be ready to lead the Tigers. Of course, Harris will need some help from his wide receivers, and despite profound struggles from that group this season, LSU’s talented contingent of freshmen should show considerable improvement in their sophomore year. If the trio of Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, and John Diarse can take some of the attention away from emerging star Travin Dural, the Tigers could have a dangerous group of receivers and a potent passing attack in 2015.

 

Obviously, there are a lot of variables and no guarantees for LSU looking ahead to the 2015 season. The Tigers will be banking on a lot of their young players making vast improvements from their freshman to sophomore season, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. But it’s a fair assumption that the Tigers will have one of the best defenses in the SEC in 2015, possibly in the country. Also, despite a lack of experience, there is also no shortage of talent to work with on offense, giving the Tigers a high ceiling on that side of the ball. In 2015, this young Tiger’s team will be a year older, and therefore much more experienced and prepared for life in the SEC West. If the defense can continue to perform at a high level, and things come together on the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers will be set up to do great things in 2015.

Weighing in on Syracuse’s Football Schedule

The primary narrative throughout the Syracuse football season in 2014 has been the inordinate and overwhelming amount of injuries the team has suffered, so much so that injuries have become a legitimate excuse why the Orange are 3-7 and won’t be going to a bowl in 2014. But another aspect of Syracuse’s season that has been overlooked is the Orange’s schedule. The challenging schedule Syracuse played this season has factored into its suboptimal record and will be an important factor in the future success of the program.

 

It may seem like a copout to blame a poor record on a difficult schedule, but all schedules are not created equal. This is particularly true in college football, where there are over 120 FBS teams of varying skill levels, most of which set their base goal for the season at reaching six wins and qualifying for a bowl game, creating schedules with distinctly different levels of difficulty. Of course, even compared to other teams in the ACC, Syracuse played a more challenging schedule than most.

 

For instance, N.C. State played a non-conference schedule consisting of FBS newcomers Georgia Southern and Old Dominion, a South Florida Team that’s in the bottom half of the AAC standings, and a mediocre FCS team in Presbyterian. By virtue of going 4-0 against such a weak non-conference schedule, the Wolf Pack has qualified for a bowl with wins over Syracuse and ACC basement dweller Wake Forest, and no one else. On paper, N.C. State has twice as many wins than Syracuse, but that is quite misleading, as that difference in win total is due to their schedules and not the quality of each team, where the gap is minimal.

 

For its non-conference schedule, Syracuse challenged itself with a top-20 team in Notre Dame, a Maryland team that is currently third in the Big Ten East Division, one of the better teams from the MAC in Central Michigan, and a top-10 FCS team in Villanova. With a 2-2 record in those non-conference games, Syracuse was forced to go 4-4 in ACC to reach a bowl game, whereas N.C. State may go to a bowl game with a 2-6 conference record. Of course, that ACC schedule includes one of the nation’s top teams in Florida State, as well as Clemson and Louisville, who possess two of the best defenses in the country. With Duke on the schedule as well, the Orange played arguably the best four teams in the ACC, a tall task for any team, much less one experiencing the amount of injuries the Orange have this season.

 

To be fair, Syracuse was the one who made its non-conference schedule, knowing that it would be more difficult for the Orange to reach a bowl, especially considering its new conference schedule in the ACC. One thing that Syracuse should take away from its struggles this season is the need to make a fundamental change in the way they schedule non-conference games. Strength of schedule may matter with regard to reaching the College Football Playoff, but Syracuse is not a program that’s ready to compete for a spot in the playoff, minimizing the need to play a difficult schedule. Marquee non-conference games may put the program in the spotlight and help with recruiting, but the benefit of playing them can be quickly negated by a three-win season. Having a winning season, going to a bowl game, and having the 15 extra practices that come with a bowl game to develop younger players will be better for the program in the long run than losing to national powers on national TV.

 

Moving forward, Syracuse should not schedule more than one non-conference game per season in which they know they will be an underdog. Barring a complete disaster, the Orange need to be able to get at least three wins from its non-conference schedule every year until its able to establish itself as an above-average program that’s capable of competing for a spot in the ACC Championship Game on an annual basis. Moreover, Syracuse can now get marquee games from its conference schedule and no longer needs to go outside the conference to find them. Games in upcoming years against the likes of LSU and Notre Dame are fine, but Syracuse shouldn’t play more than one power-five team out of conference per year, providing a compromise between playing marquee games out of conference and playing a watered down non-conference schedule like N.C. State has done this season.

 

It’s not ideal for Syracuse to “dumb down” its schedule, but the Orange need to recognize that right now they are an average program, and until that changes, they need to chase wins wherever they can find them, which means a softer non-conference schedule. This will put them in position to make a bowl on an annual basis, even in years in which the Orange suffer misfortune, such as this year with regard to its wealth of injuries. The schedule put Syracuse in a tough position in 2014, and that should not be the case in the years to come.

LSU Should Make A Change At Quarterback

The LSU Tiger’s loss to Arkansas on Saturday night is just the latest example of the LSU offense lagging far behind the team’s defense. Not only did the Bayou Bengals lose to a team that hadn’t won a conference game in over two years, but they were shut out, putting up a pitiful 123 yards of total offense. After yet another sub-par performance by the Tiger’s offense, it’s clear that a change is needed at quarterback, as Anthony Jennings should be benched in favor of true freshman Brandon Harris for the remainder of the season.

 

To be fair, Jennings was the right choice to be the Tiger’s starting quarterback this season. Harris showed early in the season, and then again in the blowout loss to Auburn, that he was not ready for life in the SEC. Despite Jennings’ shortcomings and poor stats, he did play an important role in LSU rattling off three straight October wins over Florida, Kentucky, and Ole Miss, a string of victories that helped the Tigers to salvage what could have otherwise been a disappointing season. However, when the Tigers failed to beat Alabama, there was little left for LSU to play for this season and little reason to keep Jennings at quarterback. At that point, a switch to Harris should have been made.

 

Would starting Harris over Jennings against Arkansas have made a difference? Maybe yes, maybe no. There’s no way to tell since we haven’t seen Harris in extended action since his disastrous performance against Auburn. But obviously it couldn’t have made things any worse for the Tigers. Even if Jennings had started, a halftime switch to Harris would have been wise, as it could have given the LSU offense the spark that it needed to turn things around against the Razorbacks. Moreover, it could have given the LSU defense hope that they wouldn’t have to be the sole unit to carry the team yet again. After such a futile offensive performance against Arkansas in the first half, one that followed weeks of sluggish offensive performances, Les Miles owed it to his team to try something new to give his team a chance in the second half, and that would have meant putting Harris into the game.

 

Of course, Jennings isn’t solely to blame for the problems of the LSU offense this season. He’s working with an incredibly young group of wide receivers, a group that outside of sophomore Travin Dural has failed to grow up and blossom into viable threats in the passing game. Jennings has also had to deal with an offensive line that has struggled with continuity and consistency this season, and against Arkansas failed to win in the trenches, making it difficult for LSU to be productive in the running game. But even with a myriad of issues around him, Jennings has done little with his performance to earn the right to remain the starting quarterback, especially after back-to-back losses in which blame can be firmly pointed at the LSU offense.

 

At this point in the season a change in quarterback may seem pointless, but not for the Tigers, especially if it means getting Harris meaningful playing time. It’s not hard to recognize that Harris is the more talented quarterback; he has a higher ceiling than Jennings and is more likely to be the future of the program. The Tigers are bowl eligible and have secured a winning record this season, leaving them little else that they can accomplish in 2014, meaning it’s time to take a glance at the future, and that means giving Harris another opportunity to play and seeing how far he’s come since his nightmare performance against Auburn. With a week and a half before LSU’s next game against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day, Harris will have ample time to be prepared to face the Aggies. He would then have 15 more practices prior to LSU’s bowl game to get reps with the first team offense. That amount of practice time and two full games could be invaluable for Harris’ development as a quarterback looking ahead to the 2015 season.

 

A quarterback change may not mean much for the 2014 LSU football season, but after the Tiger’s loss to Arkansas it’s completely warranted. More importantly, a switch from Jennings to Harris is the right move for the Tiger’s future, and with little left for LSU to accomplish this season, making that change for the final two games of 2014 may end up being beneficial for the Tigers in 2015.

Injuries Are An Excuse For Syracuse

With its loss to Duke on Saturday, bowl hopes in 2014 for the Syracuse football team officially came to an end. Despite his obvious frustration, head coach Scott Shafer isn’t making excuses for why his team has failed to make a bowl game and why they fell short of the pre-season goal of eight wins. Shafer’s players aren’t making excuses either for why they’ll play their final two games of the season without an opportunity to reach a bowl game. But there is an obvious reason why the Orange has played hard week after week only to end up with a 3-7 record with two games remaining, and it’s the injuries the team has suffered through all season long. Coaches and players will never use injuries as an excuse, but I will, because the injuries the Orange have suffered this season are far more than a program like Syracuse is capable of surviving.

The most obvious position that has suffered meaningful injuries for the Orange is quarterback. Granted, Terrel Hunt did not look sharp throwing the ball the first month of the season, but there was always the chance he would start to make meaningful progress as a quarterback over the course of the season. More to the point, the Syracuse offense has missed Hunt’s experience and running ability throughout the course of the season, as the Orange have been forced to play a trio of freshmen in his absence.

Hunt’s presence may have made a meaningful difference in Syracuse’s loss to Clemson, as opposed to playing true freshman A.J. Long against one of the best defenses in the country in one of the toughest road venues in the country. Hunt’s experience would have made him better suited to play such a difficult game than Long, and his great instincts leaving the pocket and making plays with his legs could have helped to neutralize Clemson’s pass rush in a game where a Syracuse touchdown at any point in the first three quarters would have given the Orange a great opportunity to spring an upset. Hunt also could have been a difference maker in the Orange’s close loss to N.C. State, where a pick-six by the inexperienced Long was the deciding factor. With additional injuries to Long and Austin Wilson, when the Orange reached must-win territory against Duke, they were relying on fourth-string quarter Mitch Kimble to lead them to victory, which is not a recipe for success for any team.

Of course, more damaging than the injuries at quarterback are the injuries Syracuse has suffered along the offensive line. The Orange have been forced to play 10 different offensive linemen this season and have rarely been able to keep the same five players on the field together for long periods of time, making it hard to find consistency and cohesion up front. Even the linemen that have managed to stay on the field for Syracuse have battled nagging injuries and not been at their best. Without a healthy and strong offensive line, Syracuse has not been able to establish a consistent rushing attack, which they were expecting to be the strength of their offense this year. With a makeshift offensive line, they’ve also struggled to protect their quarterbacks, which has contributed to some of the injuries at that position.

Without the type of running game they were expecting, Syracuse has been more reliant on their passing game, which has also struggled due to injuries to two of its best receivers, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime. Broyld was productive early in the season, but he’s missed six of the last seven games due to injury. Estime suffered an ankle injury during training camp, and while he made a few important catches over the first month of the season, he re-aggravated the injury twice, making him a non-factor for most of the season. Jarrod West and Steve Ishmael have both had nice seasons, with Ben Lewis becoming a productive player as well, but Syracuse was hoping to get breakout seasons from both Broyld and Estime, and injuries to both players has changed the complexion of the offense by taking away two of their top playmakers.

It may be difficult to believe by looking at their 3-7 record, but Syracuse is an average team. However, average teams are rarely capable of surviving the rash of injuries the Orange have experienced in 2014, especially when most come on one side of the ball. To the credit of Shafer and his team, they have continued to fight hard week after week and not used injuries as an excuse, even though they are. Anytime a team is forced to use four different quarterbacks, or 10 or more offensive linemen, injuries have been an influential part of the season. The coaches and players don’t want to admit it, but injuries are the main reason why Syracuse won’t be bowling in 2014, and they’re a legitimate excuse for the Orange’s losing record.

LSU Offense Still Lags Behind Defense

With its near-win against Alabama on Saturday night, the LSU football team showed that it’s capable of going nose-to-nose with any team in the country. However, this young Tiger’s team also showed that they are not yet ready to beat the elite teams in the country and the SEC, as they squandered opportunities to take control of the game and put a nail in Alabama’s playoff coffin. The reason for this is that the LSU offense is still lagging behind the Tiger’s defense. Defensively, the Bayou Bengals have grown over the course of the season and turned into one of the best defenses in the country and a unit that opposing teams should fear. But the same can’t be said about the LSU offense, which is still a unit that is short on playmakers and lacks execution in key moments, which prevented the Tigers from beating Alabama and possibly making a late-season run at a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Granted, Alabama is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but the LSU offense had ample opportunity to win the game for the Tigers and failed to do so. An unsportsmanlike penalty on offensive lineman Vadal Alexander took the Tigers from the Alabama six-yard line back to the 21, with just over a minute to play. It was just one of two penalties the Tigers committed all night, but it cost them a chance to capitalize on T.J. Yeldon’s fumble and score a touchdown that surely would have won the game. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal that the Crimson Tide was able to equal. That’s a prime example of the mistakes LSU can’t afford to make given the state of its offense.

The biggest reason why LSU has such a small margin for error offensively is because they are still not getting strong play at the quarterback position. To his credit, on a handful of occasions, Anthony Jennings used his legs to pick up a first down. This isn’t something he’s done a lot this season, but it’s a weakness of the Alabama defense that Jennings was able to exploit. However, on the game’s final play, Jennings appeared to have a chance to run for a first down, but he chose to throw the ball into the end zone, looking for a touchdown instead of extending the drive. Despite all he did to help the Tigers against Alabama, that was the second most egregious mistake LSU made on offense against the Crimson Tide, and an example of how the LSU offense is not doing enough to help the Tigers win games this season.

Of course, the blame can’t solely be placed on Jennings. Ten games into the season, LSU’s young wide receivers have not developed to the level that the Tigers have needed them to. Malachi Dupre has made some big catches this year, but he still has just 12 total receptions on the season. Trey Quinn is second on the team in receptions this year, but he had a costly drop in the 4th quarter against Alabama and has not become a steady and reliable possession receiver, which is something the Tigers desperately need. John Diarse showed flashes of promise early in the season, but he hasn’t caught a pass in over a month. The lone LSU receiver that has emerged as a legitimate threat and playmaker is sophomore Travin Dural, but even he is not close to his full potential. More importantly, with no other threats in the passing game, it’s far too easy for opposing defenses to focus their efforts on stopping Dural, knowing the Tigers don’t have any other receivers that can hurt them. This lack of receiving targets is a big reason why Jennings has completed just 47 percent of his passes this season and has failed to elevate the performance of the LSU offense, leaving the Tigers with little margin for error on that side of the ball.

No one should be expecting the LSU offense to be lighting up the scoreboard against top-flight defenses, but at this point in the season, the young Tiger’s offense should have made more progress than they have. The result has been the Bayou Bengals having to win games solely on the back of their defense. The inability of the LSU offense to execute in key moments cost the Tigers an upset of Alabama, and until the offense starts to catch up to the level of the LSU defense, the Tigers will remain a notch below the SEC’s elite.

Alabama and LSU is Still A Marquee Rivalry

Not so long ago, the rivalry between Alabama and LSU was the biggest in the SEC, and one of the biggest in the country. For the two teams, facing the other was like going to war, and the stakes were always high, including a BCS National Championship Game played between the two. Admittedly, some of the luster is off this year’s match between the Tigers and the Tide, with LSU all but out of contention in the SEC West and Alabama no longer the pre-eminent leader and dominating force in the SEC. But with LSU making a bold statement in its last game about the Tiger’s status as one of the SEC’s elite and Alabama fighting for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, there is still much to play for in this year’s game, which will still be played in prime time in front of a national audience.

With two losses on the season and just three games left to play, LSU has slim odds to win the SEC West and become a playoff contender, but they still have their eyes set on a 10-win regular season, which would be an impressive feat for such a young team. More importantly, they would relish the opportunity to spoil Alabama’s season and keep them out of the playoff. For the Tide, a loss to LSU would be difficult to overcome, but a win in Death Valley could help propel them into playoff position and put them in good shape heading down the stretch, with their final three games all coming at home. With much to play for on both sides, here’s a closer look at what to expect in this week’s showdown between the Tigers and the Tide.

LSU OFFENSE VS. ALABAMA DEFENSE

The Tigers have been one-dimensional on offense this season, as quarterback Anthony Jennings has completed just 50% of his passes and been nothing more than a game manager. Moreover, LSU has not established any of its wide receivers as a bona fide threat outside of Travin Dural, who was limited to one catch against Ole Miss and will be the focal point of the Alabama secondary. If nothing else, Jennings will have to avoid turning the ball over, something he didn’t do against Ole Miss, throwing two interceptions. At the same time, the Tigers may need to at least attempt passes down the field to help keep the Alabama defense honest, although that could make it tougher for Jennings to avoid turnovers.

Despite a sluggish passing attack, LSU does have one of the top rushing attacks in the country, as the Tigers have four quality running backs, with true freshman Leonard Fournette emerging as the leader of the group. However, the Crimson Tide has been able to shut down opposing team’s running games for much of the season. At times, Alabama has struggled to stop mobile quarterbacks, but running the ball is not something Jennings has done particularly well this season, and so the pressure will be on the LSU offensive line to get a push against a stout Alabama front-7. The Crimson Tide has an impressive group of veteran linebackers and if they can keep the LSU running game in check, the Tigers will remain one-dimensional on offense and could struggle to move the ball consistently.

ALABAMA OFFENSE VS. LSU DEFENSE

The LSU front-7 has had some growing pains this season, but they are coming off their best game of the season against Ole Miss, and combined with a talented secondary that’s played well all season, the Tigers enter the Alabama game looking the part of an elite SEC defense. However, an LSU defensive line that may be a bit undersized will face a stiff challenge against Alabama’s dynamic running back duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who are both averaging more than five yards per carry. Quarterback Blake Sims is also a threat to run the ball, which is something the LSU linebackers need to be prepared to face.

Of course, the biggest threat on the Alabama offense is wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has over 1,100 yards receiving and nine touchdowns through the first eight games of the season. LSU has the talent in the secondary to matchup with the rest of the Alabama receivers in one-on-one situations, but defending Cooper is another matter. If some combination of Tre’Davious White, Rashard Robinson, and Jalen Collins can keep Cooper contained in man-to-man coverage, the Tigers will be in good shape defensively, but if not, LSU will have to alter what they do defensively, or risk Cooper beating them with big plays.

CONCLUSIONS

This game has all the makings of a classic Alabama-LSU low-scoring slugfest that’s dominated by each team’s defense. However, if there’s an obvious difference between the two teams, it’s that with Cooper, Yeldon, and Henry, Alabama has more potential game breakers on the offensive side of the ball. That puts the most pressure in this game on the LSU defense, especially if the Tigers can’t generate a balanced offensive attack, as it could be up to the defense to deliver another victory in Death Valley.

Syracuse Football Season on Life Support

In football, there can be such a thin line between winning and losing. As the Syracuse football team has found out on a number of occasions this season, the plays that decide a game don’t always happen at the end of games; they can happen at anytime. In the Orange’s third game of the season, Terrel Hunt threw a pick-six in the red zone late in the 2nd quarter, creating a 14-point turnaround and turning what could have been a four-point halftime deficit into an 18-point deficit in a game Syracuse lost by 14 points. The Orange fell victim to similar circumstances in their most recent loss, as Syracuse looked poised to extend their lead to either eight or 12 points over N.C. State before a pick-six thrown by A.J. Long halted the Orange’s momentum and handed the Wolf Pack the lead, and ultimately the game.

Those are the two defining plays of the 2014 Syracuse football season. They turned a possible win against Maryland and a probable win against N.C. State into two Syracuse losses. Those two plays are also prime examples of how the Syracuse offense is solely responsible for the teams losing record this season. On those two plays the Orange offense gave away touchdowns to their opponents without giving the Syracuse defensive the opportunity to stop them; a Syracuse defense that has surpassed pre-season expectations and done everything in its power to give the team a chance to win in nearly every game this season, despite receiving little support from the offense. In fact, in Syracuse’s three wins this season, the Syracuse defense has only allowed three touchdowns, while also scoring three touchdowns and recording a safety, which shows just how one-sided the Orange have been this season, even in their victories.

With the propensity of the Orange offense to give games away and their continued inability throughout the season to take advantage of a hard-working defense or capitalize on the takeaways created by the Orange defense, the Syracuse football season is officially on life support. What has been a disappointing and frustrating season to watch unfold can only be salvaged by Syracuse winning its last three games in order to reach 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game. Based on the way the team has played throughout the season, specifically its inability to win competitive games against teams of comparable talent, there’s little hope that the Orange can all of a sudden catch fire and win three in a row. Even head coach Scott Shafer used the word “miracle” to describe the prospect of his team winning its last three games and reaching a bowl game.

Despite Shafer’s optimism after every loss this season and his excitement at the challenge of winning three straight games to close out the season, his use of the word “miracle” speaks to how seemingly hopeless the situation is in which Syracuse finds itself. Shafer’s constant enthusiasm has also masked the fact that he has simply not had the answers necessary to get the Orange’s season turned around. This makes it hard to believe he’ll find those answers in time to save Syracuse’s season, as the Orange’s bowl hopes may very well die on the Carrier Dome turf this week against Duke, a loss which would cap off an embarrassing 1-5 home campaign.

Of course, three wins in three games is possible for any football team, and there are things the Orange can do to put themselves on the right side of the thin line that separates winning and losing. Even one or two wins over the final three games would give Syracuse a better taste in their mouth heading into the offseason and a bit more optimism for the future, especially considering the injuries the team has suffered and all the young players that have been forced into action. But coming up a win or two shy of a bowl game would also make the Orange kick themselves all offseason at the times they found a way to lose a game instead of finding a way to win a game. It’s that small collection of game-deciding plays that has caused the Syracuse football season to be put on life support heading into the final three games, needing a miracle to survive.