Syracuse took a couple of steps backwards in Scott Shafer's second season, as the Orange won just three games. If any bounce back occurs this fall it will have to happen with a new offensive coordinator in place and very little starting experience returning on either side of the ball. The Orange could have a tough time climbing out of the basement in the ACC Atlantic Division.
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Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2015
Fifth-year senior quarterback Terrel Hunt is one of the few steady figures on the roster despite fracturing his fibula midway through last season. Hunt likely will be Syracuse’s best running threat, but he is working to develop as a pocket passer with the ability to use his feet, much like Seattle’s Russell Wilson. That aligns with offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s system, which will feature more downfield routes and simpler terminology.
The Orange lose more than 67 percent of their running back production to graduation. And with Erv Philips sliding to the H-back position, juniors Devante McFarlane and George Morris II are expected to take the majority of carries by true running backs. Philips and senior Ashton Broyld, arguably the team’s two most dynamic playmakers, will take handoffs both between the tackles and on the perimeter from the H-back position.
Steve Ishmael is the only proven entity at wide receiver after starring as a true freshman. Lining up opposite him is junior Alvin Cornelius, who recorded as many tackles as receptions last season (three), but was a standout player in the spring. Junior Brisly Estime may be SU’s fastest skill-position player, but ankle and foot injuries derailed his 2014 season and carried into the spring.
With Sean Hickey off to the NFL, Syracuse has a three-year starter to replace at left tackle. The leading candidate is senior Ivan Foy, who has played primarily at right tackle the last two seasons. Rob Trudo, a two-year starter at left guard, is likely to replace center John Miller. The biggest question facing the unit: Can it stay healthy? SU played 10 offensive linemen last season.
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Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2015
The good news for the front four is that junior Ron Thompson, once a four-star tight end recruit, returns to his natural defensive position on the end of the line. The bad news? Senior defensive tackle Wayne Williams was the next-most-productive returner after a nine-tackle season in 2014, and he decided to transfer in late June. New faces will be relied on to produce immediately, including 23-year-old Luke Arciniega, who was granted two additional years of eligibility by the NCAA in March.
Possibly the strongest position on the team last year, the linebacker corps loses NFL hopefuls Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Sophomore middle backer Zaire Franklin steps in as the unit’s leader. He’s smart, savvy and well respected by his teammates. Marqez Hodge will slide to the weak-side spot in 2015, while sophomore Parris Bennett has the inside track for the strong-side spot.
Cornerback Julian Whigham returns from what he described as a “wasted” junior year as the secondary’s most experienced player. Wayne Morgan is expected to line up opposite Whigham. There is little experience at safety, where sophomores Chauncey Scissum and Rodney Williams are the expected starters.
Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2015
Senior punter Riley Dixon is one of the team’s most talented players, and he got more than his fair share of work last season. After winning the starting placekicking job last year as a true freshman, walk-on Cole Murphy will have to defend his spot against two scholarship kickers in senior Ryan Norton and incoming freshman Sterling Hofrichter. In the return game, McFarlane and Philips are the likely choices for kickoffs, while Estime brings experience returning punts.
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has his work cut out to improve on a 3–9 season. Margin for error will be slim with a new offensive system and eight new defensive starters. And with (now former) athletic director Daryl Gross choosing to “take on new challenges” following the NCAA’s handing down of sanctions in March, Shafer could be coaching for his job.