The Syracuse Orange return an experienced team in 2014 after an up-and-down first season in the ACC. The Syracuse football team was young almost across the board last season, starting mostly sophomores and juniors. Now, with all those young players a year further along in their development, the Orange have a chance to make a big leap forward.
Phil Steele calculated the returning experience for every team in the FBS division of college football. The Orange came in No. 1 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally.
Now Steele’s experience rankings do not speak to the talent returning. He only considered figures like the percentage of yards or tackles that a returning player accounted for last year. He also factored in senior starters and backups and career starts along the offensive line. So this is not a gauge for how talented a team is, nor a predictor for how they will perform in 2014. Steele, not surprisingly, is not predicting the Orange to win the ACC.
But while his rankings are not meant to be a predictor of success, it does bode well for the Orange. Returning the bulk of your starting lineup is always a good thing, particularly when the amount of experience you return is high relative to your competition. And that is the case with the Orange, which compete in the comparatively inexperienced Atlantic division.
In the Atlantic, only the Florida State Seminoles fared reasonably well, coming in at No. 39 nationally and No. 4 overall in the ACC. There are no other Atlantic-division teams in the top 50 and only one other (the No. 77 Louisville Cardinals) in the top 100.
The Orange do have to play cross-division games against the Duke Blue Devils and the Pittsburgh Panthers as well. Duke is the third-most experienced team in the ACC and No. 25 nationally, while Pittsburgh failed to crack the top 100 in the FBS.
So for Orange fans, here is the reason for optimism.
The Orange performed much better than expected last year, finishing third in the Atlantic division. They lost to both of their Coastal-division opponents but went 4-2 in the Atlantic, with the two losses handed to them by the Clemson Tigers and Florida State. The Orange return the majority of that team and add a recruiting class that was custom tailored to address their weakness at wide receiver. Aside from Florida State, every other Atlantic-division team the Orange will face is looking at a rebuilding year, to some degree. And Louisville, the only other in-division opponent to land in the top 100, was demolished by Syracuse the last time they met two years ago when Teddy Bridgewater was still leading the Cards.
Realistically, Clemson should reload well enough to take down the Orange again this year, putting a second-place finish just out of reach, even as a best-case scenario. Fourth place in the division is probably as low as Syracuse could finish. But if the Orange can find a way to best the Cards once again, third place, eight or so regular-season wins and a third straight bowl game should be attainable.