By Bryan Zarpentine @BZarp on August 25, 2014
As the Syracuse football team moves into year two of the Scott Shafer era, the Orange are trying to take things to the next level after going to a bowl game in three of the last four seasons. The schedule they face will be difficult, and if Syracuse is going to move the program another step forward in 2014, here are the 10 most important players on the team that will help make that happen.
Eskridge has the talent to be one of the best safeties in the ACC. He started to break out last season, but the Orange are going to need him to become a game changer this season. He'll need to cover a lot of space, provide help to the Syracuse cornerbacks and force turnovers for the Syracuse defense to be as good, if not better, than they were last year.
Estime will be one the offensive playmakers that Syracuse leans on in 2014. He has the speed and quickness to be a game changer, and the Orange will try to get him the ball any way possible. Syracuse will ask a lot of him, and Estime will have to deliver, which includes holding onto the ball and avoiding fumbles, as well as staying healthy, as he could be injury prone if the Orange try to use him too much.
Whigham isn't the most experienced cornerback on Syracuse's roster, but he may be the most talented. He showed plenty of promise last year before his devastating injury against Florida State, but he appears to be healthy and the Orange need a big year from him. Of Syracuse's three experienced cornerbacks, he's the most likely to develop in to a lock-down corner, which is what the Orange will need in the ACC this year.
Syracuse doesn't have a lot of established pass catchers, so they're going to need their most experienced receiver to step up. West had a disappointing season in 2013, and for long stretches was a complete non-factor. That can't happen again, as the Orange will need West to become a steady and reliable target for Terrell Hunt, and become someone Hunt looks to in key spots.
Syracuse has a pair of solid seniors at defensive end in Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh, but Thompson has a much higher upside. In his sophomore season, he needs to become a formidable and consistent pass-rushing threat, which is something the Orange lack. If Thompson can help Syracuse pressure the quarterback with a four-man rush, their defense will be a whole lot better.
With the loss of Jay Bromley, the interior of the defensive line is one of Syracuse's biggest question marks heading into the season. Crume is one of the few experienced players the Orange have inside, and they need him to step up and anchor the unit. If he can be anywhere close to as productive as Bromley was last year, Syracuse will be in good shape, otherwise this could be a problem area for the Orange all season.
Hickey gave the Syracuse offensive line a huge boost when he decided to return for his senior season, and now he has to prove why he's considered an early-round draft pick. The Orange can't afford quarterback Terrell Hunt to get hurt, and obviously Hickey is instrumental in that happening. But he also needs to become a catalyst in the running game, much like Justin Pugh was a couple of years ago.
Hodge has huge shoes to fill, taking over at middle linebacker for four-year starter Marquis Spruill. He played well in limited duty last year, but now he'll have to play 12 games at a key position, while also being one of the leaders on the defense. But if Hodge has a good season, the Orange will likely have one of the best linebacker units in the ACC.
Norton was up and down last year and missed some important kicks, but with Ross Krautman forced to retire due to injury, Syracuse is stuck with him, for better or worse. The Orange are bound to be in some close games this season, and they can't afford to leave points on the field, which means they'll need Norton to come through for them. He must prove that he can be a consistent place kicker, or else the Orange could be in trouble.
Ultimately, Syracuse's season will hinge on the play of their quarterback. Hunt made some big plays last season and proved to be a dangerous runner, but if the Orange are to repeat or improve their win total from 2013, Hunt must improve as a passer. If Hunt takes his game to the next level, he'll take Syracuse to the next level. If not, the Orange will once again be needing wins down the stretch just to reach a bowl game.
June 30, 2015 by Tyler Brett
Can Asiantii Woulard provide a much-needed spark to the South Florida offense? Read More
June 30, 2015 by Barrett Pfeiffer
The Tennessee Volunteers haven't defeated Florida Football since 2004. Here's why 2015 will bring the victory back to Knoxville. Read More
June 29, 2015 by Dan Escalona
With Mike Dudek out of the lineup until October, wide receiver Geronimo Allison must step up for Illinois. Read More
June 29, 2015 by Tyler Brett
Isaiah Battle will be leaving Clemson for the NFL supplemental draft. How will the Tigers offense handle his departure? Read More
June 29, 2015 by Jason Fletcher
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is entering his fifth season in Morgantown. Find out why the 2015 season could be his last if he doesn't meet expectations. Read More
Projected starting middle linebacker Anthony Harrell won't be playing for Georgia Tech in 2015. How will his departure impact the Yellow Jackets defense? Read More
June 28, 2015 by Barrett Pfeiffer
With the talent surrounding the Texas A&M offense, there should be no reason that sophomore QB Allen shouldn't do well this fall. Read More
June 27, 2015 by Barrett Pfeiffer
The Gators may be chomping on themselves in 2015 with the condition of their offensive line. Read More