Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 55 Syracuse Orange
The Syracuse football program returns one of the most experienced teams in the conference, a season removed from a third-place finish in the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Syracuse, the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers aren’t going anywhere, and the Louisville Cardinals just landed. Third place might be attainable again if a few things break Syracuse’s way, but the dream of an ACC Championship will in all likelihood remain deferred.
The Orange return virtually their entire offense from last season. Junior QB Terrel Hunt is back after an up-and-down first season as a starter, along with five of his top six receivers from last season. Syracuse also returns four starters along the offensive line and a deep stable of running backs led by senior Prince-Tyson Gulley. The offense got a major boost going into 2014 when LT Sean Hickey spurned the chance to be an early-round draft pick to return for his senior season.
The main concern for this offense will be finding a big-play receiver. Syracuse returns plenty of experience, but wide receiver was a significant weakness last season and someone will have to step up. Junior Ashton Broyld and sophomore Brisly Estime are intriguing talents who could be poised for breakout seasons. Former Arkansas Razorbacks transfer Quinta Funderburk and the oft-injured Adrian Flemming are two other receivers to watch for.
Unfortunately, the gem of Syracuse’s recruiting class, four-star WR K.J. Williams failed to qualify, but the group is still loaded with talent at receiver. The Orange may look for contributions from Corey Cooper or Steve Ishmael in their freshman seasons.
The Orange had a young defense last season, which partially explains why they were so up-and-down. In conference play, the Orange shut out the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and held the Maryland Terrapins and the NC State Wolfpack to three and 10 points respectively. However, the same unit also gave up 49 points to Clemson, 56 points to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and 59 points to Florida State.
The defense will have a few holes to fill this season, but ultimately, it could come back stronger in 2014. The big loss for the defense was DT Jay Bromley. The unit will also have to find a replacement for MLB Marquis Spruill, but Syracuse has depth at linebacker and two talented starters returning. Expect Marqez Hodge to step into Spruill’s old job without the linebackers losing much productivity.
The secondary also lost two starting cornerbacks, but it really has nowhere to go but up as a unit. All-ACC caliber safety Durell Eskridge returns, but the rest of the group is questionable. There is some talent there in players like Brandon Reddish and Julian Whigham, but it is unclear whether they can handle the burden that Scott Shafer’s defense puts on its corners. They will be left in one-on-one coverage a lot and may struggle when the front-seven can’t get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Orange will try to build on their 7-6 record from a year ago, but they will have to do it while playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country. In addition to their slate of Atlantic division games, the Orange will play cross-division games against the Pittsburgh Panthers and the reigning Coastal Division champs, the Duke Blue Devils. The best thing Syracuse has going for them is getting Louisville in the Carrier Dome, where they dismantled the Cards the last time the two teams met in 2012.
Out of conference, the Orange will be tested with games against Maryland at home and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at MetLife Stadium in New York City. The Orange will get to ease into the season a bit though, with their first two games scheduled against the Villanova Wildcats and the Central Michigan Chippewas.
The Orange should be a better team in 2014, but it is hard to find more than seven or so wins on the schedule. They could potentially start 3-0 if they can top Maryland, and they should manage at least three more wins within their division. That would put them at six wins and bowl eligibility and, considering the schedule, reaching another bowl game could be viewed as progress.