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.