The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 61 Syracuse.
Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2014:
It was feast or famine for the Syracuse offense in 2013, as it generated 50-plus points twice in a 13-game season but failed to score 20 six other times. The inconsistency was to be expected considering the team had a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback and untested receivers. It didn’t help that the quarterback, Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, struggled and was benched four games into the season in favor of sophomore Terrel Hunt.
With game experience returning at every position except one interior line spot, and offensive coordinator George McDonald having a year under his belt, the Orange should be poised to improve significantly on last season’s mediocre 376.8 yards per game (85th in the nation).
“We want to play faster, that’s the biggest thing,” McDonald says. “We want to be great at what we do and continue to put pressure on the defense whether it’s the run game or the pass game.”
Syracuse was better in the run game thanks in large part to the ability of Hunt to run like a power back. He finished with 500 yards rushing and seven TDs, a nice complement to decent passing numbers — 1,638 yards and 10 TDs and a 61.2 completion percentage.
It is the passing game that will determine the unit’s fate, as the 2013 team lacked a game-breaking burner. Junior Ashton Broyld (6'3", 223) is an imposing physical presence who set a school record for receptions by a sophomore last season with 52, although none of them went for a score. The team had no receiver surpass 500 yards, let alone approach 1,000.
Coach Scott Shafer hopes one or two of the five incoming freshman receivers can make the jump to FBS ball, because he has a veteran dual-threat quarterback, a deep stable of running backs and an offensive line led by senior tackle Sean Hickey that returns four of five starters.
Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2014:
Syracuse’s Jekyll-Hyde performance on offense was mirrored on defense, as the Orange pitched two shutouts and held five other foes to 17 or fewer points but also yielded at least 48 points four times.
“We want to get better at the details,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough says. “This season we should be better.”
SU must replace star tackle Jay Bromley and middle linebacker Marquis Spruill. The unit will be thin at tackle but has loads of experience returning at end, including starters Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson.
The back seven also has plenty of experience. Whoever wins Spruill’s vacant spot at middle linebacker will be flanked by veterans Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. The secondary, led by junior free safety Durell Eskridge (team-leading 78 tackles and four interceptions), will return solid game experience at all four positions.
There are critical holes to fill at tackle and middle linebacker but experience everywhere else, and that should make the Orange defense more Jekyll than Hyde this season.
Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2014:
Every key player returns on special teams. Sophomore Brisly Estime, whose 70-yard punt return triggered a Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota, will be a key asset. SU will get a boost if Ross Krautman, the second-most accurate kicker in school history (49-of-63), can return from injury.
With numerous returners on each side of the ball and the momentum from the Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Syracuse is poised to take another step in 2014. Yet the talent gap between the Orange and ACC Atlantic Division members Florida State and Clemson remains huge. Every other game will be a crapshoot, and another upper-division finish and bowl are attainable.