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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

5 Things Syracuse Must Do In November To Make A Bowl Game

The results have not been what the Syracuse football team was hoping for this season, but it certainly looks as though the team has started to turn a corner in recent weeks. The Orange have had hard-fought losses against Florida State and Clemson sandwiched around a comfortable win against Wake Forest, but now is the time when Syracuse needs actual wins and not just competitive losses against better teams. At 3-5, Syracuse needs to win at least three of its final four games in order to reach a bowl game and avoid taking a step backward after all the progress forward made under Doug Marrone and Scott Shafer over the past few seasons. In order to get to a bowl game, here are five things the Orange must do over their final four games.
Win at home – Syracuse has not played well at home this season, going just 1-3 and barely beating Villanova in the season opener, but that needs to change. The Orange play their next two games at home and they have to win them both. N.C. State is a team Syracuse should beat on any field, and there will be no excuse for not doing so inside the Carrier Dome. Duke will be a much tougher opponent, but if the Orange defense can continue to play well, Syracuse will have a good shot to spring an upset at home. If the Orange can take care of business at home, they’ll be in a position where winning one of two road games in the final two weeks of the season will be enough to go bowling, and that’s not a bad position to be in considering everything that has happened this season.
Get healthy and stay healthy – Syracuse has been a bit unlucky with the injury bug this year, as they don’t have the depth on their roster to survive so many injuries. Ashton Broyld returned against Clemson and made some nice contributions, but Brisly Estime’s return from the injured list was brief, and the Orange are still without key players like Ivan Foy, Wayne Morgan, Wayne Williams, and Terrel Hunt, while a few others are playing through minor injuries. The Orange need to avoid any more injuries to key players and hope they can get a boost over the final month of the season from players returning from the injured list, as it could give them the boost they need to get to a bowl game.
Keep the takeaways coming – The Orange defense has created 15 takeaways over the last five games, and that needs to continue over the final month if Syracuse is going to make a bowl. The Syracuse offense is just not capable of winning games by itself, so the defense is going to have to carry the team on their back, and that means creating takeaways and scoring defensive touchdowns, something Syracuse has done four times this season. If the turnovers keep coming, the Orange will have a shot, but if the Syracuse defense can’t keep it going, there’s no way the Orange will score enough points to win three games in November.
Stay open minded at quarterback – It’d be great if there were clarity at the quarterback position heading down the stretch, but there’s not and Syracuse needs to remain open to all options. A.J. Long has shown promise, but he needs to continue to prove that he gives the team the best chance to win right now. If Hunt comes back healthy, he may be their best option, while Austin Wilson and Mitch Kimble may have something to contribute as well. Even if Syracuse has to rotate all four quarterbacks, they have to be open minded to finding something that works at the quarterback position.
Fix the issues in the red zone – The Orange offense has been atrocious in the red zone this season, and they have four games left to fix their issues. The four teams Syracuse will face are somewhat comparable in overall talent, at least to compared to most of the teams they faced over the last six weeks, but they’re not going to win three games with field goals and defensive touchdowns. At times, the Orange offense has been capable of moving the ball between the 20’s, but if they can’t find the end zone once they get inside 20, they’ll be watching bowl season from home this year.

Syracuse Aims To Turn Season Around

As we’ve all seen, the first half of the 2014 season did not go according to plan for the Syracuse football team. The Orange were supposed to start the season 3-0 and then have three cracks at pulling off an upset against a top-25 caliber team before finding a much more manageable schedule the second half of the season. Instead, Syracuse was fortunate to start the season 2-0, failed to capitalize on an opportunity to go 3-0 with a disappointing home loss to Maryland, and didn’t come close to pulling off an upset against Notre Dame, Louisville, or Florida State. That poor start has put the Orange in a difficult position with regard to reaching its fourth bowl game in five years.
However, the past two weeks there have been signs that Syracuse is starting to turn things around. Somehow, the Orange managed to play their best football of the season in a loss to Florida State, who at the time was ranked first in the country. Despite an 18-point loss, Syracuse was able to take plenty of positives out of the game, as they were far more competitive with Florida State than they were a year ago. The Orange followed that up with a convincing road win against Wake Forest to snap a four-game losing streak and give Syracuse some much-needed momentum to kickoff the second half of the season.
The biggest reason why Syracuse may be ready to turn their season around is the improved play of the offense the past two weeks. The Orange offense was erratic and unreliable the first month of the season, and they hit rock bottom with a six-point performance against Louisville, which was also the game in which Syracuse lost quarterback Terrel Hunt for several weeks to a broken leg. A third straight loss, the injury to Hunt, and a midseason change in the offensive coordinator had the Orange offense in panic mode before they finally started to show signs of life.
The renewal of life from the Orange offense has come from three true freshmen: quarterback A.J. Long, wide receiver Steve Ishmael, and running back Ervin Phillips. Long has looked mature beyond his years as the team’s new starting quarterback, showing both confidence and play-making ability the past two weeks. Ishmael had six catches the first five games of the season, but has nine the past two weeks, including two touchdowns. Ishmael is clearly the most talented wide receiver on the Orange roster, and he and Long appear to have a great chemistry in the passing game. Finally, new offensive coordinator Tim Lester appears has tried to increase Phillips’ role in the offense, as he has flashed great skills and the potential to be a game changer.
Of course, the Syracuse defense continues to play well, as the Orange attempt to turn their season around. The Orange have been much better at playing bend-but-don’t-break defense in recent weeks, which has at least kept Syracuse within striking distance had the offense been more productive. More importantly, the Orange defense has continued to create turnovers, forcing two against Florida State, while also being in position for at least two more, and then scoring two defensive touchdowns Wake Forest. If nothing else, the Syracuse defense should be able to keep the team competitive the second half of the season, and give the Orange a chance to win enough games to reach a bowl if the offense can continue to show improvement.
The schedule ahead is not quite as daunting as what Syracuse faced the first half of the season, but it’s certainly challenging. Among road trips to Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, as well as home games against N.C. State and Duke, the Orange need to find at least three wins. Based on the play of the Orange thus far, all of those games are at best a toss-up, if not games in which Syracuse will be an underdog. That’s a tall task, but Syracuse has overcome slow starts in previous years and managed to reach a bowl game. With the team’s four-game losing streak over, and the offense showing signs of life the past two weeks, there is a glimmer of hope that Syracuse can get things turned all the way around and find themselves in a bowl game in 2014.

Syracuse Football Midseason Report Card

The first half of the 2014 season has not gone according to plan for the Syracuse football team. All the momentum the Orange had at the end of the 2013 season disappeared in a flash, as Syracuse has started the season 2-4 and finds itself in a deep hole with regard to qualifying for a bowl game. Here is a midseason report card to track the Orange’s progress in 2014, or lack thereof.
Quarterback, D – Despite scoring six rushing touchdowns and being the team’s leading rusher until breaking his leg five games into the season, Terrel Hunt was a big part of the problems the Syracuse offense has had this year. He did not take a big step forward the way many expected; in fact, he took a step backward in his progression. Hunt struggled with his accuracy, which has made it difficult for the Orange to finish drives in the end zone, and once teams starting to defend his running ability, he was largely ineffective. Now that Hunt is out until at least November, Syracuse is reliant on freshman Austin Wilson and A.J. Long, and while both showed promise against Florida State, there is bound to be growing pains.
Running backs, B – As expected, the Syracuse running backs have performed well this season, with Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore both averaging six yards per rush. Neither has found the end zone much, but both have run the ball well between the 20’s and helped the Orange gain a lot of yards and pick up a lot of first downs. True freshman Ervin Phillips has also emerged as a viable option, giving the Orange plenty of depth in the backfield.
Wide Receivers, C- – As a whole, this group has been disappointing, but part of that is due to the poor play at quarterback. Syracuse still doesn’t have a lot of game changers at wide receiver, and it hasn’t helped that two of their most talented passing targets, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, have both missed time due to injury. However, there have been a few bright spots: Jarrod West has rebounded from a poor 2013 and is putting together a solid senior campaign; Ben Lewis has had a couple key drops, but he’s made some nice contributions; and true freshman Steve Ishmael looks like he could be a star down the line for the Orange.
Offensive Line, C – This is one of the more disappointing units with regard to what was expected. With four returning starters, the Syracuse offensive line should have been the strength of the team, but instead they’ve been inconsistent and played a meaningful role in the struggles of the Syracuse offense through the first six games.
Defensive Line, C – At times the Syracuse defensive line has been solid, but at other times they’ve been pushed around. With Wayne Williams and John Raymon getting more playing time, the Orange are getting bigger inside, while Ron Thompson has made some plays as well, despite playing out of position at the tackle position. However, the Orange just hasn’t been able to generate a consistent pass rush with a four-man front this season, and that’s been a problem for the defense.
Linebackers, B+ – As expected, this unit has been the strength of the Syracuse defense. Seniors Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis have both have stood out as two of the team’s top defensive players. Meanwhile, Marquez Hodge is having a strong first season as a starter at middle linebacker, giving Syracuse a productive set of linebackers that have been responsible for the Orange being able to hold their own on the defensive side of the ball.
Secondary, C+ – Syracuse asks a lot of its defensive backs, especially its cornerbacks, but this group has had a fine season, despite a lack of depth. Brandon Reddish is having a strong senior campaign, while Julian Whigham has come back and played well after a devastating injury last season. At safety, Durrell Eskridge has been solid but unspectacular, while Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir have played well at the other safety spot. However, what hurts this unit is how inconsistent they’ve been at creating turnovers over the first six games of the season.
Coaching, D – Things have not been pretty for the Orange this season, and at the end of the day it comes back to Scott Shafer and the coaching staff. With nine returning starters on offense, including the quarterback, there’s no reason for the Syracuse offense to be as bad as it was over the first handful of games this season. The close call against Villanova, the loss to Maryland to despite having 220 more yards of offense, and the inability to be more competitive with Notre Dame despite a 5-1 advantage in takeaways all come down to coaching. The change in offensive coordinator mid-season didn’t exactly go smooth either. Shafer didn’t seem to have a lot of answers over the first half of the season, and he’s going to have to find some during the second half of the season if he’s going to get the Orange back to a bowl game in 2014.

Syracuse Offense in Panic Mode

Five games into the season, the identity that the Syracuse football team has established is that of a solid defense capable of keeping the team in games and an insufferable offense that can’t get out of its own way. The Orange offense has been perpetually disappointing this season and is the sole reason why Syracuse has a 2-3 record and will have a difficult time qualifying for a bowl game in 2014.
In four of five games this season, the Syracuse offense has hurt itself with mental errors and been unable to capitalize on scoring chances. It started in the season opener when the Orange offensive line failed to push around an undersized Villanova front-7, which nearly cost Syracuse a game they could have easily lost. Against Maryland, Syracuse racked up nearly 600 yards of offense, but because the Orange struggled in the red zone, they lost a game they should have won by double digits. Against Notre Dame, the Syracuse defense forced five turnovers, but the Orange offense failed to turn those takeaways into points, costing them the game. In its most recent loss against Louisville, Syracuse had ample opportunities to score points, but penalties, dropped passes, and the inability to win at the line of scrimmage kept the Orange out of the end zone and forced the defense to spend too much time on the field, which eventually wore them down and cause the Orange to lose by an embarrassing margin.
There’s no viable reason for the Syracuse offense to be as bad as they’ve been this season. Outside of center Macky MacPherson and running back Jerome Smith, the Orange lost no offensive players of consequence from last year’s team. Syracuse has more than enough talent at running back to make up for the loss of Smith, while the return of four starters along the offensive line and the emergence of Omari Palmer and John Miller as starters should have been enough to make up for the absence of MacPherson. With so many returning players, as well as a few promising freshmen sprinkled into the mix, the Orange offense should have taken a considerable step forward this season, especially after appearing to hit their stride at the end of the 2013 season. Instead, the Syracuse offense has taken a monumental step backwards in 2014 and been one of the worst in the country among power-five teams; and now it looks like things will get worse before they get better.
On Monday, Syracuse found out that quarterback Terrel Hunt will miss at least four weeks with a broken leg, an injury that could keep him out the rest of the season. To be fair, Hunt has been a big part of the struggles of the Syracuse offense this season, but losing him is still a crushing blow for the Orange. Despite terrible accuracy throwing the ball and a slew of mental errors this season, Hunt is the best option at quarterback. He has 15 career starts under his belt, he’s a threat running the ball, and he’s surely capable of playing better and making better decisions than he has thus far. However, now he’s just another name on the injured list, leaving a trio of freshmen with little or no experience to lead what has been an abysmal offense.
In an attempt to jumpstart the offense, with or without Hunt, head coach Scott Shafer has decided to take away the play calling duties from George McDonald and make quarterbacks coach Tim Lester the new offensive coordinator. This is a move that reeks of desperation, but this is certainly a desperate time for the Syracuse offense. Obviously, something needs to change for the Syracuse offense, and since they can’t bring in new players mid-season or wave a magic wand and heal their injured players, changing the coach who’s calling the plays is one of the few changes that can actually be made, even if it’s merely change for the sake of change. Lester actually does have play calling experience, albeit at lower levels of college football, which is something McDonald didn’t have before coming to Syracuse. Lester has also worked closely with Syracuse backups Austin Wilson, A.J. Long, and Mitch Kimble, so he will have a good understanding of each player’s strength and weaknesses, as the Orange try to move forward without Hunt and still find a way to improve the performance of the offense.
Of course, regardless of who’s calling the plays or which players are injured, things are likely to get worse before they get better for the Orange offense with top-ranked Florida State coming to the Carrier Dome this week. Any change that Syracuse makes offensively will likely be fruitless against the Seminoles, but changes do need to be made for the sake of their season. Pulling off an upset over Florida State or Clemson is likely off the table, but Syracuse does have a handful of games left on the schedule against teams they are capable of beating, especially with the Orange defense playing well enough to keep the team in games. It’s now up to the Syracuse offense to get things turned around, give a hard-working defense some support, and give the Orange a fighting chance to make it to a bowl game.

The Return of the MAC

With 5 weeks in the books, college football ,as always, has been full of surprises, upsets, big plays, and crazy comebacks. The MAC has had it’s fair share of excitement so far as well, and entering the first full week of MAC play teams are hitting there stride and some competitive football is coming our way. Despite a few in conference MAC games already being played, very little has been decided other than a few bottom feeders claiming their territory and a surprise contender or two making some noise.
It’s been an entertaining first month of the season for MAC fans with ups and downs a plenty. The following is a condensed recap of the Highlights (and low-lights) of the season thus far:
Week 1: Starting off the season with a bang, MAC East preseason favorite Bowling Green got manhandled by the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 59-31 in a shocker. Being a relatively quiet tune-up week for most schools not much else thrilling took place week 1 although its noteworthy that in an early conference match-up Ohio defeated Kent St. 17-14 while Eastern Michigan matched their 2013 win total knocking off Morgan St. 31-28.
Week 2: In what proved to be the biggest week of upsets so far, week 2 gave us a little bit of everything. Central Michigan went to Purdue and stunned the Boilermakers 38-17 after Purdue outlasted a scare from Western Michigan last week. Northern Illinois followed suit dismantling in-state rival and fellow Big10 school Northwestern 23-15. Ball St. came within seconds of a MAC trifecta frightening Iowa fans in a heart crushing last second 17-13 loss. U-Mass took Colorado to the brink before falling 41-38 while Toledo couldn’t keep up with #24 Missouri losing 49-24 although it was a much closer game that the score reflects. After getting their fans hopes up week 1, E. Michigan suffered the 2nd largest lopsided defeat of 2014 in an absolute beat down from Florida 65-0 (EMU also has the 3rd largest blowout as you’ll find out later).
Week 3: A rough week for the MAC as tougher schools came calling. The lone bright spot was in yet another Big10 upset as Bowling Green worked out some wrinkles and squeeked past Indiana 45-42. Kent St. didn’t fare as well against the Big10 getting punished by #22 Ohio St. 66-0. C. Michigan’s high from the Purdue win was short lived as Syracuse stomped them 40-3. Buffalo shared a similar fate getting smashed 63-21 at #8 Baylor. Toledo hung around yet again in another shootout but eventually fell 58-34 to Cincinnati. N. Illinois continued to impress taking down UNLV 48-34 albeit UNLV isn’t the major program the others listed are.
Week 4: Yet another rough week for the MAC as the non-conference schedules get tougher and tougher. Bowling Green found out what a “real” Big10 team plays like getting shredded 68-17 by #19 Wisconsin. Helpless E. Michigan received the same Big10 powerhouse thumping at the hands of #11 Michigan St. 73-14 (There it is). C. Michigan continued to struggle through a tough early schedule falling to Kansas 24-10. N. Illinois ran into a team they couldn’t hang with losing to Arkansas in a 52-14 drumming. Continuing their promising start, Toledo had the lone highlight of the week in defeating Ball St. (who’s off to a slow start) 34-23 in Toledo’s MAC opener.
Week 5: Akron flexed some surprise muscle to start week 5 conquering Pittsburgh 21-10 while half of the MAC entered conference play. WMU however, was not one of those teams and after doubling last years win total last week (2), the Bronco’s were brought back down to earth against Virginia Tech losing 35-17 although like Toledo, hung in longer than the score reflects. Sticking with Toledo, they rocketed past C. Michigan 48-28 continuing Centrals early woes and proving again to be a strong contender for the MAC West title. Also playing in conference, Bowling Green righted the ship beating U-Mass 47-42 while surprise Buffalo bullied Miami(OH) 35-27.
Entering the first full week of MAC play, it appears 8 teams have put themselves into my “contender” ranking: Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, N. Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, and W. Michigan. To date, Toledo, N. Illinois, and C. Michigan have played the toughest schedules which is why CMU still gets a nod despite being the only team named under .500. This week will provide us a much clearer view of who’s a real contender, and who’s just been pretending. It’s safe to say we can eliminate 1/2 of the East division from contention with 0-4 Kent St., 0-5 U-Mass, and 0-5 Miami(OH) not convincing anyone otherwise. E. Michigan can be put in this list too despite having a win, they lost their other 3 games a combined 155-17. The biggest surprise team not mentioned yet is Ball St. who despite their 1-3 record I can’t write off just yet but hasn’t earned contender status either. They should’ve beat Iowa and their 3 losses have all been by 10 pts. or less.
Despite some success, the majority of teams will be ready for, and looking forward to conference play. With understandable success against non-major conferences, the MAC still struggles against the major conferences not named Big10. Honestly, 3-8 versus the Big10 isn’t that high of a success rate either, but it’s considerably better that the 2-13 the MAC mustered up against all other major conferences (not including Marshall who is 3-0 vs. the MAC). The MAC is also 0-5 vs. AP Top 25 teams with the majority of the biggest blowouts coming at the hands of such schools. That being said, the MAC is getting better one season at a time as N. Illinois’ undefeated season last year, and P.J. Flecks 36th best recruiting class in the nation is proving in 2014. This week should be highly entertaining as MAC teams collide with eyes on the prize. Every game matters, but there are several marquee matchups on Saturday in the MAC including:
TOL vs WMU logos
A west division showdown between Toledo (3-2)(2-0 MAC) at Western Michigan (2-2)(0-0 MAC) in the Bronco’s MAC opener. The winner of this game gets my vote for MAC West division favorite. In an East vs. West collision, Ohio (3-2)(1-0 MAC) travels to C. Michigan (2-3(0-1 MAC) in whats become a must-win game for the Chippewas. Ohio could emerge with a 2nd MAC win vs. a fellow contender and a little more respect overall. Finally in an East division showdown, Buffalo (3-2)(1-0 MAC) locks horns with Bowling Green (3-2)(1-0 MAC) in a battle to remain on top of the East division. Only one can stay undefeated in conference while Buffalo can prove alot going on the road and earning a W in what would be an upset for the Bulls. All 3 games will be hard played and exciting to watch. I myself am attending the Toledo vs. WMU game and can’t wait to catch some live MAC action! Thanks for reading and be sure to tune in next week for all that is MAC from out here in MAC land!