It's finally here! Syracuse Football season has arrived and I've made it an unofficial tradition of sorts to write a season preview with my amateur predictions for the upcoming season.
First, let's take a look at my past predictions.
I started this in 2010, and here's what I predicted along with the results:
2010- 8-5, Pinstripe Bowl
2010 result- 8-5, Pinstripe Bowl
2011- 8-4, Belk Bowl
2011 result- 5-7
2012- 8-5, Beef O' Brady Bowl
2012- 8-5 Pinstripe Bowl
2013- 7-6, Military Bowl (I did get the Conference USA representative, Marshall right for this bowl)
2013 result- 7-6, Texas Bowl
As you can see, outside of 2011, this preview has been a solid gage of at least how the regular season will go.
With that said, let's dive into 2014.
I feel this team is perhaps the most athletic on offense since Donovan McNabb was at Syracuse. Coach Shafer, Coach McDonald and company have done an amazing job of recruiting all over the nation. Evidence of that is the Orange already nearing its limit for the Class of 2015!
Offensively, I see absolutely no reason why we wouldn't see a lot of points put up on a near-weekly basis. Sure, there were losses like Macky MacPherson and Jerome Smith but the offensive line is bigger now and the depth there is the best we've seen in a decade. At running back, the depth is tremendous as well, and now it's Prince-Tyson Gulley's time to shine. It will be a lot of fun to watch this unit gel because remember, the big theme here is that it's year two.
Year two for the coaching staff, including Offensive Coordinator George McDonald and perhaps most important part of this is Terrel Hunt now enters his second year as the starting quarterback. At the end of last season, Hunt's play elevated this team to a bowl game and a 3rd place finish in the ACC Atlantic behind only BCS team Clemson and National Champion Florida State. The wideouts are big, athletic, and fast and we don't even know how good freshmen like Steve Ishmael, Adly Enoicy and Jamal Custis could be. And let's not forget the H-Back position which is home to perhaps the Orange's two best athletes in Brisly Estime and Ashton Broyld.
The defense took more hits by graduation. The secondary, specifically lost Keon Lyn, Jeremi Wilkes, and Rishard Anderson but as Coach Shafer says "Next man up", and the next guys up are not slouches by any stretch. We've seen Brandon Reddish play quality snaps since day one, Julian Whigham is a star in the making, too. Add to that the versatility and potential of Wayne Morgan and corner should be just fine. At safety, Ritchy Desir, Durell Eskridge and Darius Kelly form quite the trio. Eskridge may be battling Sean Hickey for best NFL prospect on the team. The linebackers unit, it goes without saying, is one of the best corps on the team. Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis on the outside will anchor Marqez Hodge inside. It reminds me a lot of 2010 when veteran studs Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith were anchoring a young Marquis Spruill. And the depth here is fantastic. The defensive line loses a great one in Jay Bromley, but again, there's reason to be optimistic here with Eric Crume, a veteran from Detroit and newcomer Wayne Williams who had to LOSE 40 pounds to get to 330 pounds!
Do I sound very optimistic? Good. Because I am. I think Sean Hickey put it best when he said that Syracuse is still battling the late 2000's perception from the Greg Robinson era. That certainly explains fans over the past few predictions listed above showing pessimism. This year though, when I'm out and about in Central New York, fans are increasingly buying into this program. Still, there are holdovers who will think I'm coming out of left field with this prediction, and you know what I may be wrong. But, I think if there were more optimism around this team it would go a long way.
With all of that, let's dive into the schedule
Syracuse 49, Villanova 21
I think we'll see the faster-paced Orange offense led by veterans strike early and often. Villanova is talented and 1,000 rusher at quarterback Johnny Robertson is cause for concern. But Coach Shafer put it best after the win over Wagner in 2013 when he said that it was about time SU started winning the way they should over FCS teams. Villanova, while probably the best FCS team SU has seen in a while, probably won't have enough to beat the Orange.
The bye week in Week 2 will become a storyline in October and November, as it sets up a 9-game stretch without a break. My co-host on the Orange Zone (which debuts on NBC-3 at 6:30 Thursday night) Damien Rhodes says this could work two ways. If SU gets hot, it could be great and set up a winning streak, but of course with that long of a stretch it could set up plenty of wear and tear and hurt the team, potentially.
Syracuse 28, Central Michigan 13
This has the makings of a trap game. Central Michigan is a good MAC team that will be up to host a team from the ACC. I just don't think there's enough there to warrant an "upset" alert.
Syracuse 34, Maryland 28
This year's Maryland team will be different than the one we saw SU beat down at College Park last November. Remember, that team was dealing with plenty of injuries. It may be closer to the Maryland we saw in September that looked good until it ran into the Florida State buzz saw. Still, this Syracuse team will be different, and better, too.
Notre Dame 27, Syracuse 24
The Orange fan in me knows SU can win this game, and might just come away with the victory. There are unknowns with The Irish possibly losing 4 starters because of an academics investigation. For what it's worth, this will be a pro-Notre Dame crowd at Met Life Stadium. Win or lose, playing against a team that was in the National Title game two years ago is a good measuring stick.
Syracuse 41, Louisville 31
There's something about those Friday night games in the Carrier Dome. Louisville, under a different coaching staff, was pummeled the last time it came to town. I think the Cardinals are vastly overrated by the experts and while they'll be a good team and a bowl team, I don't think they are "ahead" of the Orange. I like Syracuse in this one.
Florida State 37, Syracuse 17
Remember in 1999, when Syracuse went to Blacksburg and a freshman quarterback Michael Vick torched the Orange in a 62-0 shellacking?
The next year, when he came to the Carrier Dome, SU was ready and nearly pulled the upset in a 22-14 loss.
Now, I'm in no way suggesting that SU will take FSU to the 4th quarter, but, it should be a bit more competitive.
Syracuse 28, Wake Forest 10
Wake Forest is in full rebuilding mode, and even if the game is in Winston-Salem I think the Orange, if it plays the way it should, will win easily. (Barring of course, any injury or development that happens between now and October 18)
Clemson 35, Syracuse 7
Welcome to Death Valley. I think the gap will become less and less between Syracuse and programs like Clemson. But for SU to win on the road against the Tigers will be a tall order.
Syracuse 35 NC State 21
NC State will be much better this year, and will be paced by Jacoby Brissett. This game though, is back at the Carrier Dome and I just feel this team will be up for every game, even if it is at the end of a 9-game stretch.
Duke 31, Syracuse 27
Prince Tyson Gulley will be plowing towards the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown, and bowl over a defender to score. Suddenly, Tony Greene will run on the field, calling a charge on Gulley and awarding the game to Duke.
Syracuse 20, Pitt 17
A good old-fashioned Big East battle, Syracuse and Pitt always grind it out to the end and this year will be no different.
Syracuse 31, Boston College 23
Boston College is fighting for the future, and while they will remember the Orange winning at the end in 2013, I like Syracuse to end the season on a high note.
I think it'd be fun to beat Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl but there's no way in (heck) that Rutgers is bowl eligible this year. And they're in for a rough decade or two in the Big 10. The players too, probably want a different bowl game than the Pinstripe, but I would call that bowl the front-runner. But, for sunny vacation reasons, I'll say the Sun Bowl versus Arizona State.
Bottom line: 9-4, win in Sun Bowl