The Syracuse Orange had a surprisingly successful first season in the ACC last year. The Orange finished in third place in the Atlantic division, right behind the Florida State Seminoles and the Clemson Tigers, and defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Texas Bowl. But it was a major rebuilding year from top-to-bottom for the Syracuse football program, as former head coach Doug Marrone left for the same job with the Buffalo Bills and the Orange had to replace most of their playmakers on offense.
Things will be quite a bit different in 2014, as the Orange return one of the most experienced teams in the ACC, along with a recruiting class that should help them fix some of the issues that plagued them last year. There are several freshmen who could potentially contribute for the Orange, but there are two that will be particularly difficult to keep off the field.
The Orange return a lot of experience on offense this year, but they have a very clear weakness that needs to be addressed if they are going to be successful. There is no question about who will be the starting quarterback, with Terrel Hunt returning after winning the job as a sophomore last season. The Orange will need to find a few decent targets for Hunt to throw to though, as nobody on the roster managed to top 500 receiving yards last year.
This is where the gem of Syracuse’s 2014 class, KJ Williams, comes in. Williams was a four-star recruit in 247 Sports’ composite rankings and chose the Orange from a list of offers than included the Arizona Wildcats, the Michigan Wolverines, the UCLA Bruins and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Williams has good size and speed. He most likely won’t be Hunt’s top target, with Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime seemingly poised for breakout seasons, but he should at least provide Hunt with another play maker down the field.
Although the Orange have slightly more highly-touted defenders arriving with the class of 2014 in DE Chris Slayton and LB Jonathan Thomas, CB Juwan Dowels is the true freshman with a best chance to contribute on defense because the Orange have greater need in the secondary than the front-seven. And while Dowels isn’t as highly-rated as Slayton and Thomas by most recruiting sites, he did pick the Orange from an impressive list of offers that included Clemson, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas A&M Aggies.
Dowels’ ratings may have been hurt a bit by his size (5-foot-9, 170 lbs.) but he has great speed and ball-skills, which he displayed by grabbing nine interceptions and breaking up 18 passes as a senior last year. With all of the spread offenses the Orange will have to defend, Dowels could see the field quite a bit as part of the rotation at cornerback.