Tag Archives: Syracuse

Way-Too-Early Schedule Game: Notre Dame Edition

Well, it’s that time of the year. Summer is upon us and it’s almost okay to start dreaming of the college football season. Yes, it is only June, and still way too early for a legitimate top 25 and too early to count anyone out – or in, for that matter – of the national championship race.

Where does that leave us, you ask? I think it puts us in the perfect place to play everyone’s favorite game, the schedule game.

Over the course of this column I’m going to take a look at each of the 12 opponents Notre Dame will be facing during the 2016 regular season, give a quick breakdown and background information, and make a “way-too-early” pick on the game. Sound simple enough? Good!

Week 1 at Texas – Sunday, September 4 – Austin, TX

In a rematch of last season’s opener, Notre Dame will travel to the University of Texas to take on the Longhorns to begin the season. Last year, the Irish smoked Charlie Strong’s squad 38-3 in South Bend. Just as there was last year for Texas, there is a quarterback competition heading into camp. The difference between Notre Dame’s QB battle and Texas’ is the talent level. The pressure is building on Strong at Texas, and I don’t expect the Notre Dame game to help ease any of it.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Texas 17

Week 2 vs Nevada – Saturday, September 10 – South Bend, IN

Unlike last year, the Irish won’t open up the home portion of their schedule with a marquee opponent. While that isn’t meant to be a knock on the Wolf Pack, it’s the truth. Nevada projects to be a borderline bowl team this season and Notre Dame has higher aspirations than that level. The strength of the Wolf Pack will be their offense, specifically the backfield made up of Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch and James Butler. Nevada very may well have a nice season, but I doubt that this game is one of their highlights.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 42 – Nevada 20

Week 3 vs Michigan State – Saturday, September 17 – South Bend, IN

The third week of the season may be Notre Dame’s first real test. Michigan State is coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance and the Spartans have won two out of the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, last year took a lucky bounce at the Big House and a sick Zeke Elliott at The Shoe to get their two biggest wins, they were wins nonetheless. Sparty should be heading into 2016 ranked in the top 25. It will certainly be interesting to see who replaces Connor Cook under center for the Spartans. MSU will open the season with Furman at home followed by a bye week before their trip to South Bend. A night game at Notre Dame Stadium will be the first real test for this young team.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 27 – Michigan State 20

Week 4 vs Duke – Saturday, September 24 – South Bend, IN

While the Blue Devils are traditionally known for their success on the hardwood, they have been much improved on the gridiron lately as well. The Blue Devils are coming off a win in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however their team is not without its share of question marks. The biggest one of these may be the quarterback position. Last year the offense was driven by Thomas Sirk. Sirk was due to return to the helm this season, however he ruptured his Achilles for the second time during offseason conditioning drills in February. It is unknown if Sirk will be back and how effective he will be. If he is unable to play look for Parker Boehme to fill in. Just like their brothers on the hardwood, I think the Blue Devils will struggle with Notre Dame on the gridiron.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 38 – Duke 17

Week 5 at Syracuse – Saturday, October 1 – East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

Syracuse is entering a new era with Dino Babers taking over as head coach of the Orangemen. This season looks as if it is going to be a rebuilding year for Cuse, and a win against Notre Dame is highly unlikely. It would be surprising to see Syracuse in a bowl game, with many schedule predictions having them at or around four total wins. Notre Dame certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Syracuse 3

Week 6 at North Carolina State – Saturday, October 8 – Raleigh, NC

For the second time in the first six weeks the Irish will be taking on the Wolfpack, although this breed is based in Raleigh, NC. NC State has the task of replacing Jacoby Brissett who graduated last year. Last season, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per game with Brissett in control. I would look for that number to drop a little bit, although I do think new offensive coordinatior Eliah Drinkwitz will do a good job keeping that number around 30. This is a tough spot for Notre Dame. The Irish haven’t recently played that well on the road (cough Virginia 2015 cough) and the Irish could be caught looking ahead to Stanford. I think this game is much closer and tougher than people think.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 31 – NC State 28

Week 7 vs Stanford – Saturday, October 15 – South Bend, IN

Stanford-Notre Dame has quickly become one of my favorite rivalry games in college football. Since the rain-soaked overtime classic in 2012 this series has produced some extremely memorable games, including last year’s Stanford victory at the end of the regular season on a last second field goal. I think this game could certainly be another classic in this rivalry. If Stanford figures out how to replace departed QB Kevin Hogan in the first six weeks, then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great game.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Stanford 17

Week 8 – BYE

They won’t win, they won’t lose. Not much to see here.

Week 9 vs Miami – Saturday, October 29 – South Bend, IN

This game hasn’t gotten much run yet, but I definitely think that this will be one of the best games on Notre Dame’s schedule. I think Miami is set to return to a product similar to their glory years, with Mark Richt at the helm. This is a tremendous opportunity to not only kick-start that resurgence for the Canes, but also to reignite the rivalry between Notre Dame and The U. Junior QB Brad Kaaya is one of the more underrated signal callers in the country. This is a game Notre Dame very well could lose. The biggest thing I think they have in their favor is that they are coming off the bye week. Truthfully, I think this one could go either way, and is a start to bringing back one of college football’s most missed rivalries.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Miami 20

Week 10 at Navy – Saturday, November 5 – Jacksonville, FL (EverBank Field)

Going from one rivalry that college football misses to one of my absolute favorites. Obviously the reasoning for this rivalry are more for off-the-field traditions rather than the competitive play on the field, but the respect shown between Notre Dame and Navy is one of my favorite things to witness. This year the game shouldn’t be as close as it has been in recent years. Navy lost Keenan Reynolds to graduation and he will arguably be the program’s biggest loss since Roger Staubach. Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem with the Midshipmen.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 34 – Navy 14

Week 11 vs Army – Saturday, November 12 – San Antonio, TX (Alamodome) SHAMROCK SERIES

I don’t think that this game will be very competitive. Truthfully, I think that the most interesting part of this will be seeing how Notre Dame looks in their yet-to-be-released alternate uniforms. The Irish have yet to lose a Shamrock Series game, and I would be stunned if this is the first.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 41 – Army 9

Week 12 vs Virginia Tech – Saturday, November 19 – South Bend, IN

What does life after Frank Beamer look like for the Hokies? By this point in the season we will know the answer to that. Justin Fuente is in to replace Beamer as head coach. Fresh off coaching first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch at Memphis, Fuente will have his work cut out for him in deciding between Brenden Motley, Jerod Evans, and Dwayne Lawson to run the offense. Evans is a junior college transfer and many expect him to win the job. I think this is a game that Notre Dame should win, but it is one I could see them looking past with the date with USC the following week.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 28 – VT 27

Week 13 at Southern Cal – Saturday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA

If all goes according to my predictions (it likely won’t), Notre Dame will be entering this showdown in LA unbeaten, just like in 2012. That being said, I don’t think that this matchup turns out the same as it did in Brian Kelly’s third year on campus. In my opinion, USC is one of the most underrated teams in the country and this game will ultimately decide which of these teams heads to the final four and which doesn’t. I give a slight edge to Southern Cal at home, but I feel as if this one truly is a toss up.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Southern Cal 24 – Notre Dame 21

I think Notre Dame will be very good this year and on the cusp of playoff contention once again. There are obviously a few games I think could be trap games as well as a few games I think are going to be toss ups. I could be right, I could be wrong, I guess we will find out in November how I did.

Playoff Positioning: Conference Edition

At the beginning of the year everyone had their own picks for what teams would make this year’s playoff. No matter the teams, most people had the same general feel for what conferences would get in. Florida State from the ACC, the SEC champ, the Pac-12 champ (mostly Oregon or UCLA) would get bids, and the remaining spot would go to the Big 12 or Big 10 champ. We figured there would be a little debate over that final spot considering there would be five major conference champions and only four playoff spots.
Six weeks into the season and things are even more of a crap shoot than I and most others anticipated. Three of the most popular pre-season picks already have a loss with Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma going down this past weekend. One weekend dramatically increased the number of teams who now have realistic shots at making the playoff. But where do conferences stand as a whole? Certain conferences are now more at risk than before the season of not getting a team in the playoff. There were already only four spots for five major conferences, and three of those conference’s major contenders already have losses. Throw in Notre Dame who is undefeated and ranked in the Top 10 and that makes five conferences plus Notre Dame and only four spots. And this assumes only one team per conference. The possibility of crazy scenarios is slim, but would we be that shocked if two 1-loss SEC west teams made the playoff over a conference champion with multiple losses? I certainly wouldn’t.
So which conferences are in the most trouble currently? Here’s a conference shakedown about which ones should be most concerned at this stage. We’ll have a better idea of where conferences stand in a few weeks when the playoff committee releases their initial standings but one thing is clear about this college football season: Expect insanity.
SEC
The SEC is the conference that should be least concerned and is surprising to absolutely no one. Some may think the conference is even better this year because of Ole Miss and Mississippi State’s play and subsequent rise in the rankings, but I think the conference is just as good as it has been (not too shabby). LSU is down as well as the whole SEC East so that offsets the SEC West gauntlet, but the conference is still the best in the country. The Auburn/Mississippi State winner will be the leader in the clubhouse but even a two loss SEC champ from the West would be worthy with multiple wins over the Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M group.
Notre Dame
I think Notre Dame is actually the team in the best spot at this point. They do have a few tough games remaining, but they don’t have to face brutal Pac-12/SEC schedules the rest of the way and don’t have being in a weak conference hanging over their head like the Big 10 and ACC winners will. Notre Dame’s biggest test comes next week when they play at Florida State. After that the schedule consists of Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC. Playing at the Sun Devils will be tough, but I think Notre Dame’s defense can stop Arizona State’s offense more than the other way around. The Irish’s season will come down to that game at USC, and we have all seen how inconsistent the Trojans are this year. The Irish don’t even have to win at Florida State. If they go 11-1 with their only loss in Tallahassee against the defending champs, it’s going to be nearly impossible to leave them out of the playoff.
ACC
The ACC is the simplest of conferences to assess. If Florida State loses a couple of times the ACC isn’t getting anyone in the playoff. That seems unlikely since outside of Notre Dame the Seminoles’ toughest games are on the road against Louisville, Miami (Fl.), and Syracuse. Not exactly the SEC West. Chances are Florida State will go undefeated. Even if they lose to Notre Dame, if they go 12-1 and win the ACC a single loss to an 11-1/12-0 Irish team won’t be enough to keep them out.
Big 12
The Big 12 is in a better position now than it was heading into the season. The Pac-12’s struggles obviously help. And even though front-runner Oklahoma lost, TCU’s win will help the conference as a whole. Going into the year Baylor and Oklahoma had a small margin for error since it was viewed as just them and a bunch of decent not great teams. TCU’s play gives the conference another really good team and another chance at a high quality win. If either of those three go 11-1, their resume will look pretty good with at least one win over a team from that trio. If a team outside of them somehow wins the conference, they would obviously have a great shot having had to beat at least two teams out of Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. There’s one thing that could be fun for college football fans and terrifying for the selection committee. What if that trio of teams all goes 11-1 only losing to each other? How do you leave one, let alone two of those teams out?
Big 10 and Pac 12
That leaves the two conferences that are in the most trouble right now. The Big 10 is obviously down. Even if Michigan State wins out, their best wins would be over Nebraska twice and Ohio State. That in and of itself wouldn’t be the worst, but now their one loss to Oregon looks like it might not end up being as great of a loss as we thought at the time. Even if Oregon wins out, they’d make the playoff over the Spartans so Michigan State needs a lot of teams to start losing. They definitely need Notre Dame to because if the Irish make the playoff it will be hard for the Spartans to make it over two conference champions.
Things look bleak for the Pac-12 as well. It’s never a good weekend when your top two contenders both go down at home. Oregon and UCLA have shown some weaknesses in the past couple of weeks and right now it is hard to see either team winning out. They play this Saturday and the loser’s playoff chances are likely toast. Arizona has the best win so far but it is still unclear if they are more for real or if Oregon was overrated. The best chance for the Pac-12 (short of Arizona going undefeated) is for Oregon to win out and avenge their loss to Arizona in the conference championship game.
The 2014 season has already been full of excitement, and it is anyone’s guess who will escape the upsets and survive until the playoff. One thing is clear, the committee is going to have an impossible task, and I look forward to the heat they’ll inevitably take from crazed fan bases.

C.J. Brown Clears the Air Over Quarterback Controversy, For Now

Concerns over Maryland’s quarterback play had slowly mounted over the first three weeks of the 2014 season. The Terps were 2-1 under sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, the only loss coming to West Virginia after falling a field goal short in a 40-37 shootout with the Mountaineers. The Terps had scored 52, 24, and 37 points through their first three games, the highest average points scored per game in the university’s history (37.7). Yet a debate began to arise over who the starting quarterback should be.
Brown’s accuracy and decision making were being called into serious question, and many Maryland fans were calling for junior Caleb Rowe to take over the reins under center. One may be confused by the controversy just by examining Brown’s passing statistics. While his completion percentage was just over half of his attempted passes (54%), the Terrapin starting quarterback had thrown for four touchdowns with three interceptions through three games with a respectable passer rating of approximately 115 (a rating above 100 is considered very good). Brown’s rushing statistics were more impressive, as he ran for four touchdowns and averaged 73 rushing yards per game through the first quarter of the season. The stats didn’t reveal, however, what the fan watching the games could see. Brown had struggled immensely with accuracy, arm strength, and vision both across the middle of the field and deep. Quite frankly, Brown’s capabilities as a rushing quarterback probably secured his starting job longer than it otherwise would have.
Personally, I predicted Brown’s arm struggles would continue against Syracuse and he would be pulled in favor of Rowe after halftime. The Orange defense shut down Brown in their meeting at Byrd Stadium last year, holding him to 211 passing yards, no touchdowns and two picks, and a mere five yards rushing on 15 official attempts en route to a 20-3 victory over the Terps. Syracuse returned seven defensive starters from 2013. During the week prior to Saturday’s game, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was asked during a radio appearance about the quarterback’s struggles in the passing game and if he’d considered replacing Brown with Rowe. Edsall first reaffirmed that Brown was the starter, saying, “C.J.’s the guy that gives us that best opportunity to do all the things we need to do.” Edsall then added, “But I feel very comfortable and confident that if Caleb has to go in or we need him to go in, he’ll be able to do the job.” The use of the phrase “or if we need him to go in” seemed to open the door for Rowe if Brown struggled against Syracuse. The formula that would oust Brown from his starting position was apparent and the pieces to create this outcome were in place. Brown wasn’t perfect Saturday, as he still missed a couple throws to open receivers he should have made. But he showed he can lead the Terps offense with his arm in addition to his legs.
Syracuse struck first by quickly driving down the field and hitting a 35-yard field goal. Less than two minutes later, C.J. Brown hit wide receiver Marcus Leak in the corner of the end zone on a perfectly-placed 25-yard touchdown pass. On the next possession, Brown hit Brandon Ross in the flat and the running back sprinted 90 yards for the Terps’ and C.J. Brown’s second touchdown. He would not throw another touchdown for the remainder of the game, but Brown had already proved he can be effective passing the football. He managed the game, hit receivers in stride, and didn’t commit a single turnover (with a little help from a  Marcus Leak reception that was so incredible it thoroughly confused the announcer).

Brown finished the game with a season-high 280 passing yards and a 61.5 completion percentage, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. The last time he threw for 280 or more yards came over a year ago on August 31, 2013 in the season-opener against Florida International (281 yards on 20/23 passing).
It appeared the Terps had a different gameplan for Brown and the offense in this game as opposed to the previous three. Maryland seemed to catch the Syracuse defense off-guard by aggressively attacking through the air. Maryland fans know all too well the usual blueprint for a Terrapin possession early in a game: heavy use of the quarterback option, quick horizontal passes to receivers on bubble screens, designed quarterback draws, and predictable running plays between the tackles. This low-risk low-reward offensive gameplan was designed more to chip away with short-yardage plays rather than take chances to stretch the field. Saturday the Terps and C.J. Brown showed a different dimension to the offense, one that isn’t afraid to take shots downfield early and often. It worked, as the Terps put up 31 first-half points and put themselves in a position to manage the clock the entire second half.

Maryland's Marcus Leak hauls in a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from quarterback C.J. Brown in the first quarter against Syracuse. Photo courtesy umterps.com
Maryland’s Marcus Leak hauls in a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from C.J. Brown in the first quarter against Syracuse. Photo courtesy umterps.com.

Defensive concerns remain, however, as do questions in the Terps’ backfield. Maryland allowed two different Syracuse players to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark: running back Prince-Tyson Gulley (138 yards) and quarterback Terrel Hunt (156 yards). Syracuse out-gained Maryland 589 to 369 in total offensive yards from scrimmage, but Syracuse turnovers, dropped passes, and penalties in the red zone prevented the score from being any closer. The defense came up with a couple big plays, led by cornerback William Likely who returned an interception 88 yards for a touchdown. Likely was awarded with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance.
The Terps still do not have a clear-cut starting running back, and the backfield may have actually become even more crowded after the win at Syracuse. Jacquille Veii converted from running back to wide receiver prior to the start of the season, and he exhibited his receiving skills two weeks ago by hauling in a Caleb Rowe touchdown pass despite tight coverage. He also lined up in the backfield and carried the ball once in that game, which raised a few eyebrows. Against Syracuse, Veii carried the ball more than any other Maryland running back, recording a team-high 42 yards on eight carries and a touchdown. Whether he’s technically considered a receiver or running back remains unknown, and practically speaking irrelevant, but expect him to continue to factor into the Maryland running game in the weeks to come.
Aside from giving up 370 rushing yards, the Terps put together an all-around impressive road victory against a solid Syracuse team. C.J. Brown’s job is safe for now, and the Terrapins head into their first Big Ten matchup next week with a 3-1 record. Maryland travels to Indiana to face the Hoosiers, a team that just upset #18 Missouri.

Why Dion Waiters is Due for a Breakout Season

Dion Waiters dunks on 76ers

The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a very busy offseason marked by multiple trades, free agent signings, and a critical contract extension. It’s inarguable that the Cavs got enormously better this year, going from a bubble playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference to perhaps a powerhouse in all of the NBA. There’s no question the Cavs will look like a completely different team; a night and day comparison from what they’ve looked like the last four years. But with all the moves and rumors surrounding the Cavs this offseason, we shouldn’t lose sight of the talent that was already on the team coming into this offseason.

Dion Waiters will be entering his third NBA season out of Syracuse after the Cavaliers made him the (controversial) number four pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He’s been at the epicenter of trade rumors at least since the trade deadline of this past year, coming up in trade rumors involving then-Lakers big Paul Gasol. Not much has changed as now Dion’s name has come up frequently in trade rumors for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. With all the uncertainty surrounding Dion’s future with the Cavs, we mustn’t forget he would be a great role player coming off the bench (if he’s willing). In my eyes, should Dion stay in favor with Cavs management and isn’t traded by the time this season starts, he’s in a position to take a considerable step forward with his career.

The LeBron James factor

Even if Dion comes off the bench at times or most of the season, he should see considerable playing time with LeBron on the court. Two lineups with this duo included could look something like this (for the sake of not making this too complicated, I’ll assume Kevin Love hasn’t been traded):

 

Possible starting lineup

PG: Kyrie Irving

SG: Dion Waiters

SF: LeBron James

PF: Tristan Thompson

C: Anderson Varejao

 

Possible rotational lineup

PG: Matthew Dellavedova

SG: Dion Waiters

SF: Mike Miller

PF: LeBron James

C: (random free agent rim protector probably, hopefully, please)

 

To look at how much amount of time bench-Dion is in store for with LeBron on the court, I look to the 2013-14 Miami Heat. The 4th most common Heat lineup last year included two starters and three bench players (this is the type of lineup I expect to see when LeBron and bench-Dion play together): Norris Cole, Ray Allen (back-up shooting guard, like Dion is expected to be), LeBron, Shane Battier (regular starter), and Chris Andersen. This group together logged over 92 minutes throughout the year. The duo of LeBron and Allen also spent 1,236 minutes together, also the fourth most of any duo on the Heat roster. So even if Dion comes off the bench, he’ll still see ample time with LeBron.

With that said, how does LeBron help him? Ray Allen, with LeBron (more than any other Heat starter), was able to average a bigger net three-point attempts and three-point field goals than Allen with any other Heat starter.

This tells me that LeBron’s ability to drive and draw multiple defenders combined with his court vision and willingness to pass was able to help Ray Allen take more long-range shots. This is something that I think is likely to carry over with the Cavs and hopefully with Dion Waiters. He improved his three-point shot vastly from his rookie year – from 31% to 36.8% – and hopefully he continues to trend upward this year as he’ll most likely be able to get off more shots than ever.

Restarting what he finished

After basically the whole Cavaliers team had a tumultuous start to the season, both on and off the court, Dion Waiters was one Cavalier who came out of it smelling like a rose. The second half of his and the Cavs’ season was highlighted by his buzzer beating shot in a comeback win against the Detroit Pistons. Why does this matter? Because when you have the opportunity to show this shot, one of the biggest by a Cavalier in the last four years, you have to do it.

http://youtu.be/BO8-fwBLAR0

After the show he put on during All Star weekend in a one-on-one battle with Tim Hardaway Jr., Dion was able to bump up his FG% by 4.3%, 3PT% by 1.8%, and his TS% (true shooting percentage) by 4.3%.

In the last month of the season (seven games), Dion caught fire from three and shot about 47% while averaging 20 points per game. Granted, the Cavs’ playoff chances waned down the stretch, but it’s a good sign Dion kept playing well anyway.

Where Dion needs to improve

Should Dion stay on the bench in favor of Andrew Wiggins, something that’s not out of the question, he’ll need to start being more consistent as a reserve player. As noted above, spending time on the floor with LeBron should help this, but he won’t always be able to rely on him. Dion’s offensive rating (ORtg) as a starter (101) was noticeably higher than when he came off the bench (97). He also had a much lower FG% and TS% as a bench player (42.9%, 50.4%) than as a starter (43.9%, 51.3%).

His usage percentage was just about the same whether he started or not, so supporting cast likely has some role in the difference between his numbers. Either way, two things that would help his overall consistency would be his finishing ability and shot selection. This is where David Blatt should come into play, hopefully limiting the number of mid-range jumpers Dion and the Cavs take this upcoming year. Also, one of the reasons the Cavs would be best-served taking on multiple shooters is to help a guy like Dion Waiters finish in the paint with less defenders in the way. Here’s his shot chart from last year, courtesy of nba.com/stats.

Dion Waiters 2014 shot chart
Dion Waiters has been one of the most enjoyable Cavaliers to watch since he’s come into the league; something I didn’t expect to happen the moment he got drafted. Entering his third year with an improved roster around him, I’m expecting even better things from him and more fun moments.

Syracuse Orange Crushing It On The Recruiting Trail

SU VS PITT
It’s still early in the recruiting process for the class of 2015, but Scott Shafer and the Syracuse Orange are crushing it on the recruiting trail. The Orange are experiencing unprecedented success in the recruiting arena, at least in the modern era of recruiting websites and 24/7 coverage, and that success is further evidence that Shafer is continuing what Doug Marrone started, and re-building Syracuse into a nationally-relevant program.
 
As of June 1, Syracuse has eight verbal commitments in the class of 2015, which is an unbelievable number compared to past seasons for the Orange. Since Marrone’s first full recruiting class in 2010, Syracuse has never had more than three players verbally committed by the end of May, right before the summer recruiting season starts to heat up. To have eight verbal commitments at this stage of the recruiting process is a huge feat for Shafer and the Orange, and a sure-fire sign of progress for Syracuse football.
 
It’s not as if Syracuse is going after mediocre prospects and beating out teams in the MAC for players just to boost its list of commitments early in the recruiting process. Several of Syracuse’s commitments are from recruits that play at top-notch high school programs, and who are still being pursued by schools from the ACC, SEC, and Big 10. With the quantity of commitments, the Orange have a head start on putting together a great class in 2015, which will be important to do, as they can expect to lose more than 20 players following the 2014 season. More importantly, with commitments from quality players, the Orange are proving they can hold their own in the recruiting arena against other major conference programs.
 
It’s hard to deny that recruiting has changed since Shafer took over for Marrone following the 2012 season, as Syracuse has shown limited interest in some of its traditional recruiting territory like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and instead devoted more attention to the southeastern states of Florida and Georgia, as well as the Chicago area and other parts of the Midwest. That plan may have to be amended somewhat as we move forward with the class of 2015, as New Jersey has a better than usual crop of prospects, and Shafer has brought in new assistant coach Bobby Acosta to help add some New Jersey recruits to the class of 2015. But whatever Shafer and his staff are doing, whatever strategy they are imploring, and whatever areas they’re targeting, it seems to be working.
 
At the center of Syracuse’s recruiting success is offensive coordinator George McDonald, who came to Syracuse with the reputation of being a great recruiter, and he’s lived up to the hype. McDonald took plenty of heat last season for his play calling, which was to be expected in his first year as a college coordinator, but he has delivered time and time again in the recruiting arena. McDonald’s specialty is in the state of Florida, and it’s starting to show. After the Orange signed six players from the Sunshine State in 2014, five of the eight verbal commitments for the class of 2015 hail from Florida as well. If Syracuse is going to be a competitive program in the ACC on a consistent basis, the Orange need to have a strong recruiting presence in the south, and with the early recruiting success in this class, it’s clear that Syracuse’s footprint in the state of Florida is expanding, which is another great sign for the future of the program.
mcdonald
 
Other than being a clear sign of progress for Syracuse, the early success on the recruiting trail has practical significance as well. With eight commitments presumably in the bank, Syracuse can afford to be more aggressive with the rest of its 2015 class. Instead of trying to entice commitments from lower-rated players just to make sure they’re able to sign a full class next February, the Orange can afford to go after more distinguished prospects, knowing they’ll be in good shape even if they don’t get them, which is a luxury they haven’t had in recent years when they were slow to get commitments early in the process.
 
Obviously, there is a long way to go on the recruiting front, with eight months left until signing day, and nothing Syracuse has done for the class of 2015 is going to help it win games in 2014. But the Orange’s success thus far for the class of 2015 has been a pleasant surprise compared to Syracuse’s recruiting over the last several years, and more importantly, it’s further evidence that the Orange are continuing to move in the right direction.

ACC Year-In-Review

What in the name of Joseph Smith does Provo, Utah have to do with the Atlantic Coast? Well, it means nothing to the coast itself, but for some reason, it’s where we begin our Year-In-Review of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The made a trip east to Virgina, like Oregon, but unlike the Ducks, the Cougars flew back west with a loss to the Cavaliers in their back pockets. Five weeks later, the Atlantic Coast, the conference that is, came to them in Provo, but it was Georgia Tech taking the “L”, thus proving there’s nothing to the transitive property things. College Football is still an Any Given Saturday type of deal, once you look past the top of a top-heavy conference.

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That’s not the type of non-conference play that gets everyone’s attention. No, the headlines are reserved for North Carolina’s season-opening loss at South Carolina or Clemson’s big win over Georgia; we knew so little back then. Big East refugees Pittsburgh and Syracuse were welcomed to the conference by its top dogs, and were rudely introduced to ACC Football by Florida State and Clemson. Miami and Virginia Tech, Big East refugees of yesteryear, pulled the wool over our eyes for a good chunk of the season, before revealing who they really were. And, they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling Duke Blue Devils. Duke was a surprise, to be sure, but not enough of a surprise, as evidenced by their performance in the post-season to join the ranks of the top in this top-heavy conference.

That’s not to say that National Coach of the Year David Cudcliffe’s team wasn’t worthy of attention and praise for the rise of their program, but it would have been nice for the conference to see the Blue Devils notch the “W” in the Chick-fil-a Bowl over Texas A&M. The conference had to settle for a National Championship and a clean sweep of the BCS bowls that invited their teams. Clemson knocked off an Ohio State team that was arguably desinted for the National Championship before being tripped in the Big Ten Championship, and then Florida State beat an Auburn team that actually qualified for the National Championship. Of course, we tend to notice the games at the end, but a season is not made by one or two games in January. Here are ten games that shaped the ACC in 2013.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech

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SEPTEMBER 21 The Tar Heels went to Atlanta with a 1-1 record, and no one was really sure what to think of North Carolina at that point. They lost that opener at South Carolina, but many figured that the Gamecocks were a pretty solid team, even without Jadaveon Clowney playing an integral role in their 27-10 victory over UNC. A win over Middle Tennessee at home in Week 2 was to be expected, but a game at Georgia Tech would prove to be a legitimate litmus test. As for the Yellow Jackets, they were 2-0 with wins over Elon and Duke; back in September, Duke was only a slightly better opponent on paper than the Elon Phoenix, so Paul Johnson’s team had a thing or two to prove as well.

Seeking their first win at Georgia Tech since 1997, the Tar Heels got out to a 13-0 lead on tight end Eric Ebron’s 19-yard touchdown reception from Bryn Renner at the end of the first quarter. Ebron would lead all receivers in the game with 6 catches for 108 yards. Renner, who threw for 218 yards, found Sean Tapley from 24 yards out in the second quarter to give the visiting Tar Heels a 20-7 lead, but that would be it for Larry Fedora’s team on this day.

Despite their struggles to hold on to the football in the rain, Georgia Tech was able to rally back, starting with Vad Lee’s 21-yard scoring strike as time was running out in the first half, which made it a 20-14 game. As with most Georgia Tech games since Paul Johnson brought his triple-option offense to Atlanta, it was all about rushing yards and the Yellow Jackets had 324 of them. Robert Godhigh had 100 of them on 9 carries, one better than David Sims, who did score Tech’s first and last points of the game. Quarterback Vad Lee, who completed only seven passes, ran for 55 yards on the day, but it was a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put his team up for good.

The win would be their third in a row, but they’d lose their next three games, before winning the next three after that, demonstrating how streaky and enigmatic they were in 2013.

Final:Georgia Tech 28 North Carolina 20

North Carolina State at Wake Forest

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OCTOBER 5 There’s no shame in losing to Clemson, right? For first-year head coach Dave Doeren, it was the only blemish on North Carolina State’s abbreviated resume, but Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe might have asked you how ashamed to be about the Clemson defeat, bundled with losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe. Doeren, the Northern Illinois defector, was looking for his first ACC win in Winston-Salem, where the Wolf Pack had not won in about 12 years.

It appeared he might have been on his way to breaking the school’s losing streak at Wake and picking up that first conference win when Pete Thomas hit Quintin Payton for six, capping off a 10-play, 66-yard drive with 39 seconds left in the first half, which gave NC State a 10-7 lead. However, the Demon Deacons weren’t content to sit on the ball at their own 25 after the kickoff. Wake quarterback Tanner Price hit Spencer Bishop for 54 yards, putting the ball on the NC State 10, and three plays later, Price found Michael Campanaro for the score and the lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.

NC State was held to a single field goal in the second half, and Campanaro’s second touchdown catch of the day, from 27 yards out with 10 minutes to play, capped the scoring. Campanaro ended the day with 12 catches for 153 yards, aiding Price to a 268-yard, 3 touchdown day in the air.

The wins were few and far between for Wake Forest in 2013, but this one looked better than their prior wins over Presbyterian and Army. They actually picked up their second and final conference win a week later against Maryland, but it went downhill after that, though they managed to play both Duke and Vanderbilt tough after suffering a 59-3 home loss to Florida State. Grobe stepped down as Wake’s head coach after the season, and it will be Dave Clawson, formerly of Bowling Green taking over in Winston-Salem. As for Doeren, a MAC champ himself, and that first ACC win, he’s going to have to hope it comes in 2014, as the Wolf Pack lost all but one of their remaining games by double-digits to go 0-8 in conference play.

Final:Wake Forest 28 North Carolina State 13

Virginia at Maryland

OCTOBER 12 Well, a 19-16 win over BYU in the opener suggested that it might not be more of the same for Virginia’s fourth-year head coach Mike London, coming a 4-8 effort in 2012, but an expected pounding from the Oregon Ducks at home and an expected cruise to victory over the VMI meant we’d learn about about the Cavaliers, beginning in late September.  A pathetic showing at Pittsburgh and another shellacking at home, this time with Ball State being rude guest, left Virginia in desperate need of a good showing against Maryland at College Park.  A week earlier, the Terps were undefeated and ranked #25 in the country, but were seriously exposed by Florida State in Tallahassee; a 63-0 defeat will make voters regret ever casting your name, I don’t care who you lose to.

Virginia leaned heavily on Alec Vozenilek, their kicker in the first half, and his three field goals, the last coming with 19 seconds left in the first half, gave the Cavaliers a 16-14 lead at the break.  The problem for London’s squad was Maryland countering their field goals with touchdowns.  Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who ran 14 times for 88 yards on the day, scored both of his touchdowns in the first half, the second one put the home team up 14-6, but Virginia was able to close the gap to one point on a 4-yard touchdown pass from David Watford to Jake McGee.  Khalek Shepherd’s 44-yard run put the visitors in a position for the score that made it 14-13 game, in favor of Maryland.

In the third quarter, it was Maryland’s turn to settle for field goals.  Brad Craddock hit two, but they were enough to give Randy Edsall’s team a 20-16 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.  Virginia responded with 10 straight points in the final quarter, the second coming on a Vozenilek’s fourth of the day from 26 yards out, which put them up 26-20.  However, in the end it was Caleb Rowe, the Terrapins backup quarterback who threw for 332 yards in relief of the concussed CJ Brown on this day, that found the endzone for the first time with about five minutes left in the game.  His 12-yard completion to tight end David Stinebaugh gave Maryland a one-point lead on Braddock’s PAT, but this one went to the wire.

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Vozenilek had a chance at five field goals, after attempts from 28, 18, 27, and 26 were all true, but his 42-yard attempt sailed wide right as time ran out.  The win was a nice rebound for Edsall and company, making them 5-1 on the season, and hey, no shame in losing to the National Champ, not that we knew that yet.  It was, however, short-lived; Maryland proved to be very average down the stretch, dropping their bowl game to Marshall and finishing 7-6.  As for Virginia, this was their best shot at a conference win, as they didn’t come within ten points of any opponent the rest of the way, finishing 2-10 and somehow retaining London for 2014.

Final: Maryland 27 Virginia 26

Boston College at Clemson

OCTOBER 12 Down the Atlantic Coast a ways, you had a #3 Clemson team trying not to look ahead of Boston College, with undefeated Florida State on their way to town.  On the other hand, Boston College was a very good football team in 2013, even if it didn’t exactly translate into the win column for them.  Unfortunately, no one was ready to hand the Eagles any trophies for wins over Villanova, Wake Forest and Army.  I know it sounds like a broken record by now, but no shame in losing to Florida State, especially in the manner which took them down; Florida State needed to some work in the fourth quarter to secure the 48-34 win in Chestnut Hill on September 28th.  However, it was their other loss, a 35-7 no-show by BC at USC earlier in the month that came to the forefront when those same Trojans lost their game and later their head coach after a humiliating loss in Tempe on that same night.

Despite getting very little out of their superstar running back Andre Williams, 24 carries for 70 yards, Steve Addazio’s team nearly shocked the #3 Tigers in their own place.  Myles Willis, BC’s other back, scored the only touchdown of the first half and the Eagles took a 7-3 lead into the break.  Clemson finally answered in the middle of the third quarter, when the always reliable tandem of Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins connected for 48 yards and the score, to put Dabo Swinney’s team up 14-10, a lead they held for 20 seconds.

On their very next play from scrimmage, BC got it back, when Chase Rettig hit Alex Amidon for 69 yards, and BC regained the lead.  Boyd, who threw for 334 yards, gave the Tigers the lead back with his legs, scoring from six yards out in the fourth quarter, putting Clemson up 17-14, but the tension remained high in Death Valley until Tony Steward hit Rettig, who only completed 13 passes, and the nation’s sack leader did the scoop and score, putting the game away.

Boston College fell to 3-3 with the loss, and things didn’t get better after by week, when they lost 34-10 at North Carolina on October 26th.  Things settled down a bit after that, when the Eagles reeled off four consecutive wins.  They dropped their regular season finale to Syracuse in heartbreaking fashion without the services of Williams, who ran for 2177 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, then were soundly beaten by Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona Wildcats in the Advocare V100 Bowl to finish the year 7-6.  One thing is for sure, this Boston College team should have been better than 7-6.

Final: Clemson 24 Boston College 14

Miami (FL) at North Carolina

OCTOBER 17 The biggest thing about this game between the undefeated Canes and 1-4 Heels was its time-slot, a Thursday night game on ESPN.  They’d shown promise in close losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and you might even commend their effort against a much better South Carolina team on Opening Night, but there’s a reality to the fact that they couldn’t beat anyone other than Middle Tennessee on their early slate of games.  Miami, on the other hand, was a setting themselves up to be a quiet giant with big wins early on, most especially their 21-16 win over a Florida team that we all gave too much credit to early.  

This was no walk in the park for Al Golden’s bunch, who needed to battle every step of the way.  They were the walking wounded in this game, losing star running back Duke Johnson after just 8 carries (for 83 yards), but Dallas Crawford was prepared to be the capable understudy.  Their starting receiver was on crutches by halftime, and even if Stephen Morris’s ankle had healed, his four interceptions in Chapel Hill left him better off claiming lingering pain.

They were licking their wounds on the other sideline in this one as well, though it was mostly just mental anguish after watching a 23-13 lead slip away.  After Ladarius Gunter blocked a Tar Heel field goal try and ran it back 67 yards to put The U up 13-7, North Carolina ran off 16 unanswered points, but were held to three field goals, keeping Miami in the game.  Crawford’s two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns, the second coming with 16 ticks on the clock, kept the Hurricanes perfect in the loss column.

Final: Miami 27 North Carolina 23

Florida State at Clemson

OCTOBER 19  This was Judgement Night in the ACC; despite Miami being undefeated, the consensus had either Clemson or Florida State representing the conference in the BCS, with some prospects of a National Title to the winner of this one.  Clemson was the home team, and the higher ranked one, but many of the experts had Florida State winning this one on paper.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston noted that they were playing Clemson and not the noise.  If the noise bothered them, they did a poor job showing it, dashing out to a 10-0 lead, which grew to 17-0 when Mario Edwards did the scoop & score on a Tajh Boyd fumble.  The rout was on, 12 minutes into this one.  Winston threw for 444 yards, and looked more like a Heisman candidate than ever.  Boyd was held to 156 yards, and it was safe to say his campaign for the big heavy trophy was over.

Sammy Watkins was held to eight catches and a score for Clemson, but with the aid of Winston, the Seminoles trio of receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, and Kenny Shaw combined for 16 catches for 272 yards in the biggest game in ACC history.  Even FSU tight end Nick O’Leary had his share of fun, catching 5 passes for 161 yards.

Final: Florida State 51 Clemson 14

Duke at Virginia Tech


OCTOBER 26 Why even talk about Duke before the start of basketball season, right? Well, for some reason, we talk about Virginia Tech every year, because Frank Beamer was able to recruit Michael Vick to Blacksburg fifteen years ago, and if you can give me a reason to believe in anything about the Hokies after that time, I’m all-ears.

So, here they are, a ranked team in October because they only had one loss to-date, a 35-10 snoozer at a neutral site, where nobody was sold on Alabama’s 25-point victory.  But hey, they do have Logan Thomas, the prototype quarterback once believed to be the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, in one of those way-too-early projections.  And on the other side, you had Duke, the basketball school that had to come back from 22 down to beat the hapless Virginia Cavaliers football team a week earlier, but these Blue Devils were 5-2.

The stat sheet doesn’t tell the tale in this one at all.  Time of possession was all Virginia Tech, by almost a 2-to-1 margin.  The Hokies had almost 400 yards of total offense, compared to 198 for Duke, who turned the ball over 4 times in this one.  Duke quarterback Anthony Boone got something of a reprieve, since Thomas threw four of his own, the last one, with about four minutes left gave Duke their first win over Virginia Tech since 1981.  Boone’s third quarter touchdown run put David Cudcliffe’s squad up 13-0, after the game went to intermission without a touchdown.  Much credit due to Duke kicker Ross Martin, who had kicks of 51 and 53 to give his team the early 6-0 advantage.

Final: Duke 13 Virginia Tech 10

Miami (FL) at Florida State

NOVEMBER 2 This particular battle of the unbeatens came with far less fanfare than the ‘Noles game in Death Valley the month before, and left you to remember how hyped up this intra-state rivalry was when Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden walked the sidelines.  This game had the fights, but lacked the wide-rights.

A couple of Davonta Freeman touchdowns, one on the ground and another by way of the pass, gave Florida State a 21-7 lead late in the first half, but Miami countered with Allen Hurns second scoring reception of the half, and it was 21-14, still a game at the break.  If at any point the result of this one was in doubt, James Wilder Jr and Freeman eliminated all question with third quarter touchdown runs, and Miami had no response, just a fresh number 1 in the loss column.

Final: Florida State 41 Miami 14

Pittsburgh at Syracuse

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NOVEMBER 23 There is something to be said for the play of Special Teams, and though it seemed like there was plenty of time for the Orange to overcome Aaron Donald’s first quarter block of an extra point that kept Syracuse’s early lead over the Panthers at 6-0, it ended up being the difference in a 1-point game.  Pittsburgh would eventually take a 10-6 lead on a short Tom Savage touchdown pass, but only after their first points of the game came in the fashion of a 43-yard field goal after a 19-play drive stalled. Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton did manage to put one through the goal posts with 10 seconds left in the first half , and these former Big East rivals went to the half with Pitt on top, 10-9.

Terel Hunt hit Alvin Cornelius for a 42-yard touchdown, giving ‘Cuse the lead back for the first time since leading 6-3 in the first half, but Pittsburgh was able to counter with a touchdown of their own on the final play of the third quarter.  The conversion gave them a 17-16 lead, which would hold up until the final gun, making Pittsburgh bowl-eligible.  On the other hand, Syracuse was 5-6, needing a win over Boston College in their final regular season game to go “bowling”.

Duke vs Florida State (ACC Championship)


DECEMBER 7
First, the obvious; this was a de facto National Semi-Final game for Florida State, win and they’re in, but let’s give Duke some credit.  This was, without question, their finest season of football in a very long time.  They were 10-2, which was good enough for a Coastal Division title and a chance to play in a game with Dr Pepper sponsoring it.

When the ball was kicked off in this one, all bets were off.  A small sign of hope was installed for Duke when Devonta Freeman gave them the ball at their own 3 after a 22-yard run, but it was to no avail.  The first quarter ended the way it started, with no score.  Florida State got things going with red-zone touchdowns from Kelvin Benjamin and Karlos Williams, and then added a field goal to up their lead to 17-0 at the half.

They never looked back; it was 38-0 at the end of third quarter, and it was time to start carving Jameis Winston’s name into the heavy statue that he’d pick up in New York a week later.  Winston hit Kenny Shaw and Benjamin for scores with his arm, and ran 17 yards to paydirt, on a day that he threw for 330 yards and ran for another 59.  It was Florida State’s 13th consecutive game of scoring 35 points or more, but more importantly, the win essentially guaranteed them a spot in the title game against the SEC Champion, which would be the final game in the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series.  At this point, FSU has not trailed in a game since around the 2-minute mark of the Boston College game on September 28th, spanning over 500 minutes of clock.

Final: Florida State 45 Duke 7

 

While I was Away…

by Ryan Isley

As you all may have noticed, I have not written anything for More Than a Fan in almost two weeks. Of course, there was a good reason for that – I got married and then took a honeymoon to the Bahamas. While I was gone, a lot happened in the world of sports and I am still trying to get caught up. While I work on figuring out all that happened, I thought I would tell you what happened sports-wise to me or around me since I last wrote.

Melanie and I were married on Saturday, March 24th and during our wedding reception the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated Syracuse 77-70 in the Elite 8 to advance to New Orleans and the Final Four. No worries for fans at the reception, though, because we had a television set up for the game. Yes – my new wife was perfectly fine with having a television so I could watch the Buckeyes. While I didn’t really take advantage of the opportunity, I did get to watch the last couple minutes as the game was in the balance and celebrated with my friends as the Buckeyes finished it off.

The funny thing is that we have pictures from the reception with me in my tuxedo and wearing an Ohio State hat during the game. You are surely shaking your head that I had an Ohio State hat on at my wedding reception or that I would have had one readily available anyway. Actually, it was not my doing. My brother – who was my best man – brought it with him for his speech. He talked about being able to see how someone feels about a person or anything by just watching them and then said that everyone knows that my first love was Ohio State as he pulled out the hat. It was there, why not use it?

Continue reading While I was Away…