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Syracuse Football: 2017 Orange Preview and Prediction

Zaire Franklin, Syracuse Football

Zaire Franklin, Syracuse Football

Dino Babers’ first season at Syracuse produced just four wins as one of the nation’s most productive passing attacks couldn’t overcome one of the most generous defenses. The offense should continue to improve with nine returning starters, including one of the ACC's top quarterbacks in Eric Dungey. The defense returns even more experience (10 starters) but has farther to come if the Orange hope to go bowling.

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Offense for 2017 

Eric Dungey returns for his junior year as one of the top signal callers in the ACC. He has the arm strength and accuracy to make every throw in head coach Dino Babers’ hurry-up spread offense, as well as the agility to win one-on-one situations against edge defenders. Once again, his ability to stay healthy projects to be a key variable in the Orange’s campaign.

Babers may finally have a power back to fit his system in freshman Markenzy Pierre, who rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns as a high school senior and is expected to work his way in behind junior Dontae Strickland. SU also returns sophomore Moe Neal, who averaged a team-high 5.2 yards per carry last season, but he practiced in the slot during spring ball.

At receiver, senior Steve Ishmael is expected to be the top man on the outside. However, senior inside receiver Erv Philips could be the team’s most dynamic pass-catching threat. His stop-start speed is remarkable. Junior Jamal Custis and sophomore Devin Butler have the size and speed to stretch the field. Junior college tight end Ravian Pierce could also become an impact player.

While Dungey’s health is the key for SU’s offense, position-wise, the offensive line is the biggest question mark. Injuries forced the Orange to use five first-year starters for the majority of last season.

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Defense for 2017 

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Senior middle linebacker Zaire Franklin is the leader of Syracuse’s defense and entire team. He’s a two-time captain who brings toughness and leadership as well as consistency defending the run and a developing coverage skill set. He’s flanked on the weak side by senior Parris Bennett, another sure tackler who combined with Franklin last season to become the first 100-tackle pair at SU in more than a decade.

Junior defensive tackle Chris Slayton is back as the lone proven entity in the front four. Sophomore McKinley Williams is emerging as a potential starter — he’s gained more than 40 pounds since arriving last summer. The Orange were hit with some bad news up front this offseason. Junior Steven Clark’s football career has ended due to a blood clotting issue. 

Defensive ends Kendall Coleman and Josh Black will need to become more consistent. Junior college transfer Brandon Berry could also work his way into the mix.

In the secondary, free safety Antwan Cordy is fully recovered from the broken forearm that ended his 2016 season in Week 2. He may be joined by two new faces; SU has signed graduate transfer cornerbacks Devin M. Butler (Notre Dame) and Jordan Martin (Toledo). The duo brings size to fit the Tampa-2 scheme and much-needed experience.

Previewing Syracuse Football’s Specialists for 2017

Syracuse faces a tall task in replacing return man Brisly Estime, who led the nation in punt return average last season. Senior kicker Cole Murphy will look to rebound from a 10-for-18 campaign last season. Sophomore punter Sterling Hofrichter became adept at executing the rugby-style punt last season.

Final Analysis 

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Babers hopes to replicate the second-season growth he experienced with Eastern Illinois (five more wins) and Bowling Green (two) at Syracuse in 2017. But after achieving a 4–8 mark in Year 1, he faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation. In addition to games with Atlantic Division foes Florida State, Clemson and Louisville, SU travels to Miami and LSU. The plan is for Babers’ offense to reach peak performance around Weeks 4-6. The team will need to maintain that production while making significant strides on defense if it wants to make its first bowl game since 2013.

National Ranking: 63

ACC Atlantic Prediction: 6