Predicting the Orange
The football season will kick-off one week from today for the Syracuse Orange. And that means that for beat writers and bloggers around the country, it’s PREDICTION TIME! While there is reason for optimism in Syracuse (perhaps too much optimism among Syracuse fans/bloggers), the Confidential already analyzed Syracuse’s schedule, pointing out the likely wins, likely losses, and toss-ups and generally determined that this is a very unpredictable season. Syracuse’s floor is about 5 wins, while the ceiling is likely around 8 wins.
Here is what we know:
In 2013 Syracuse’s offense was pretty anemic. Outside of the Wagner, Tulane, and Boston College games, Syracuse struggled to put points on the board. Unfortunately it seems that everyone who is expecting 8+ wins for Syracuse this year only watched the final drives against Minnesota and Boston College and have convinced themselves that those were the typical examples of SU’s offense.
Not so much.
Quarterback Terrell Hunt is a mobile QB with an average arm that struggled for most of 2013 and although I expect him to improve, especially as OC George McDonald tweaks the offense to better suit Hunt’s abilities, I also expect that defenses in the league will be better prepared for him. This is especially more difficult as Syracuse loses a workhorse at RB (Jerome Smith) who is now earning a paycheck in the NFL, and is replacing their 3-year starter at Center. Senior Prince Tyson Gulley is a shifty RB and is finally looking to put injuries behind him and take his shot at being the starter. There was much question about how he was used in 2013, particularly as an East-West runner that had to rely on his speed to try and get to the edge. There are big expectations for Adonis Ameen Moore to be the type of bruising, bowling-ball of a RB that has tormented defenses in the past, with Sophomores George Morris II and Devonte McFarlane looking to improve upon good seasons as change-of-pace backs. Recent defections have brought Wide Receiver, a position of weakness in 2013, into an area of concern and injury to TE Josh Parris, although not season-ending, will have an impact on the first month or so of games. A bright spot of the Syracuse offense is their offensive line, which returns Sean Hickey, along with three starters from last year’s squad. Syracuse’s offense returns 8 starters from 2013.
By contrast, Syracuse defense in 2013 was stout – especially against the run, and not allowing a single 100 yd. RB all season. The defense was anchored by, now New York Giant Jay Bromley, and now-Atlanta Falcon Marquis Spruill. Although we saw some good things from back-ups Luke Arciniega and Nick “Crumey” Crume, these are monster shoes to fill. I don’t expect Syracuse to alter their focus on stopping the run in 2014, which puts more pressure on the returning Secondary, who did a serviceable job last year despite getting exposed a few times too many on deep balls, and is senior-laden. Syracuse’s defense returns 7 starters from 2013.
The Special Teams seems to be on better footing with speedster Brisley Estime looking to handle some of the punt/kickoff return duties, but keeping him healthy for offense will need to be a priority. The loss of Ross Krautmann is tough, so SU will rely on Ryan Norton to improve upon his rough season from last year.
The X-Factor: Syracuse’s schedule is brutal. The Confidential has long advocated that teams like Syracuse not start their season against BCS/P5 teams, and instead model their schedules after perennial bowl teams that start with an FCS team, build to a Non-BCS team, followed by a low-level BCS team, and then challenge yourself with a good BCS team.
Syracuse finally heeded this advice, but the ACC schedulers did them no favors by giving them a 2nd week Bye followed-by a nine-game stretch. Not only will the Orange play one of the toughest stretches in the country, but they will face three teams that are currently ranked in the top-25. Syracuse’s depth is improving, but the reality is that the team will be limping into the game at NC State and will beat-up by the time they fact Duke. Games that were otherwise winnable (NC State, WakeTheForest, Duke, Pitt, Boston College) may be put in jeopardy because of the meat grinder schedule.
Coach Shafer said that this year the goal is to improve upon last year and to get 8 wins. My take on Shafer is that he’s the kind of guy who sets high expectations and goals – not goals that are easy or expected to achieve. So if he’s hoping for 8 wins, that tells me he thinks 6 wins is more likely, as I wrote elsewhere here’s how:
Villanova: Villanova is going to be much tougher than anyone is giving them credit for. Syracuse will win, but I expect ‘Nova to come out aggressive and looking to punch SU in the mouth; likely pulling out all of the stops on special teams and making gutsy 4th down calls. Not unlike some of the scares we’ve had against FCS teams in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s tied/close at halftime. Especially since Syracuse will keep the playbook very vanilla, relying heavily on our run game and bubble screens (basically the spring game playbook). But I think SU will pull away in the 3rd quarter when our depth proves better. Final score: 40-21 (of course we’ll miss an XP). (1-0)
Central Michigan: By contrast, CMU may be perceived as the easier of the two; despite that it’s a road game. SU will have had an extra week to make adjustments and provided that they aren’t too overconfident from a win against ‘Nova then I think they’ll be very well prepared and ready to play. My guess is that Syracuse has a 14 point lead at halftime, and then we sweat out the 3rd and 4th quarters as we protect that lead. I wouldn’t be surprised if CMU makes a rally toward the end of the 3rd quarter to get within one score and give us all heart attacks, until Estime returns a punt for a TD. Final score: 34-21. (2-0)
Maryland: The real test will be Maryland: win that game and we’re halfway to bowl eligibility, but we cannot look toward ND. MD will be coming in 3-0. including a recent win against overrated WVU, and will be acting like a bunch of Rutgers fans talking about dominating the B1G and praising Randy Edsall as Coach of the Year. But, I fully expect that SU will blow the playbook wide open, showing things that they had previously kept under wraps. I think it will be grind-it-out game that SU should win, though it will be close. Final: 28-24, immediately followed by a post from Testudo Times saying how terrible Syracuse football is and calling for Randy Edsall to be fired. (3-0)
Notre Dame: The recent dismissals of four key defensive players will help Syracuse immensely, but the discrepancy between Notre Dame’s talent and Syracuse’s is still too much. On top of that, Brian Kelly is still one of the best coaches in the NCAA, he has a history of winning at all levels, and will have his team prepared for Syracuse. Despite being more of a “home game” for Syracuse, the crowd will be decidedly Irish. I think Syracuse puts up a good fight, but this will be the beginning of a rough patch for the Orange. (3-1).
Louisville: It’s a tumultuous time for Cardinal Nation: Charlie Strong is being represented in MS Paint, Teddy Bridgewater is a Viking, and the Petrino-fication of Kentucky has resumed unabated. I know some folks are confused as to why the National media continues to love Louisville despite the losses, and while the Cards may not be as good as they were last year, they were still really good last year. Petrino is no Kragthorpe, and Louisville has a ton of weapons. Syracuse has had success beating Louisville on Friday nights in the past, at home, and especially on Senior Day, so this game is definitely one that is upset-worthy for the Orange. Louisville will be coming four-straight easy wins against Murray St., Virginia, Florida International, and WakeTheForest, and will likely be looking ahead toward their Oct. 3rd match-up against Clemson. I predict Syracuse wins the trap game (4-1).
Florida State: Scott Shafer put it best when complimenting the speed and athleticism of Florida State’s 2’s & 3’s. Syracuse may put up a good fight, but the indoor conditions and artificial turf will be a perfect opportunity for the Seminoles to show off just why they are the defending champs. (4-2).
Wake Forest: Coming off what is sure to be a physical and demoralizing loss to Florida State, the Orange travel to Winston-Salem where the Demon Deacons will be looking to avenge two recent losses against Syracuse – both of which were marred potentially game-changing injuries. This is game #6 in a row for the Orange, and they will be no worse for the wear. Fortunately, they will be able to take advantage of a 1st year head coach for the Demon Deac’s and barely advance with a win (5-2).
Clemson: Death Valley. One of the best Defenses in the country. A team that has no love lost for the Northern Orange…this will be brutal. Expect Clemson to come out fast, putting up points early and often. Despite the fact that Dabo & Shafer are now BFF’s, the Tigers will want an opportunity for style points and show that they, too, are worthy of discussion for the College Football Playoffs (5-3).
NC State: After an ugly, ugly game in 2013, Syracuse seemed fortunate to get a win against NC State. Under year #2 of the Dave Doeren era, we can expect to see improvements for the Wolfpack. Following another painful loss to Clemson, and nearing the end of a grind-it-out schedule, this is a should-win game for the Orange that they unfortunately will drop. (5-4).
Duke: This game had all of the makings of a great match-up. Two private basketball schools experiencing a resurgence on the football field. Unfortunately the challenging schedule and the offensive firepower of Duke will be too much for Syracuse and they will fall to .500 (5-5).
Pittsburgh: Finally having a week to recover/recoup, the Orange will travel to Pittsburgh to challenge the Panthers in Heinz Stadium. Paul Chryst has done a great job providing stability for Pitt and the team has improved year-after-year. Without Aaron Donald in the middle, this could be a break-out game for Prince Tyson Gulley and an opportunity to showcase his ability in an NFL stadium. Syracuse wins this one, but it will be close (6-5).
Boston College: Following a heartbreaking loss for the Eagles in 2013 that would have denied Syracuse a trip to a bowl game, Boston College will be looking for redemption. More importantly, being in Chestnut Hill, they will also be looking for redemption from the last time Syracuse played at BC – a rude send-off before leaving for the ACC – featuring Diamond Ferri playing both ways and denying BC the opportunity to win the Big East conference outright. Coach Addazzio is 0-2 against his former employer in recent past, and he will remain winless in a tough match-up as BC has too many holes to fill on offense. (7-5).
There you have it: we predict that Syracuse will go 7-5 this year. Good enough to beat Vegas’ expectations, for bowl eligibility, and the opportunity to improve upon last year’s regular season record (6-6), and with a bowl victory in the new Detroit Bowl they can meet Scott Shafer’s goals of 8 wins in 2014.