Syracuse football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Orange, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Syracuse Offense
Goodbye, conservative approach. Hello, fast-paced system that’s worked wherever it’s been installed by new head coach Dino Babers. Babers is here because his offenses have been inventive and high-powered wherever he’s been.
His team’s move quickly, spread the field and operate with balance. However, it’s going to be a while before the personnel is up to Babers’ standards.
The good news? QB Eric Dungey could be a very good fit behind center in this system. Before getting injured, he flashed a lot of potential as a rookie. And the running game should boast depth now that Dontae Strickland is challenging leading returner rusher Jordan Fredericks.
But this offense is not without its worries, like an O-line inserting three new starters into the lineup and developing pass-catching options after Steve Ishmael. True, there’s upside in the receiving corps, including the addition of Maryland transfer Amba Etta-Tawo, but Orange needs its guys to deliver to take heat off Ishmael and properly support Dungey’s development.
Biggest Key To The Syracuse Offense
A fierce battle at running back. Returning leading rusher Jordan Fredericks began the spring as the favorite at running back, but has since been surpassed by Dontae Strickland. Fredericks has had weight issues. Meanwhile, the new staff really likes the potential of Strickland, a heady runner who was used as a hybrid in 2015. The promising fallout is that the Orange could have two capable backs behind QB Eric Dungey if a lean and conditioned Fredericks arrives at fall camp in August.
What You Need to Know About the Syracuse Defense
The Orange offense is getting an overhaul, as is the D. Under coordinator Brian Ward, Syracuse is shifting from an attacking scheme to the Tampa-2. In layman’s terms, the Orange will blitz less, exercise more patience and operate with a zone-based mindset.
However, tamped down aggression will put more pressure on the D-line to move the pile, and the linemen are an incomplete group at this time. On the one hand, the young tackles, sophomores Steven Clark, Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton, could become cornerstone players in 2016.
On the other, though, the ends are unproven, which is why the arrival of Delaware State playmaker Gabe Sherrod is being treated with such anticipation. The back seven is flush in experience, such as linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett and versatile S Antwan Cordy.
But the pass defense needs to take a major step forward after allowing 256.7 yards per game and an unacceptable 64.7% of opposing passes to be completed.
Biggest Key To The Syracuse Defense
The arrival of Gabe Sherrod. The Orange is facing a dire situation at defensive end, which is why Delaware State transfer Gabe Sherrod can’t get to Upstate soon enough. He’s an accomplished 6-4, 255-pounder who tore through the FCS ranks for 25 tackles for loss and eight sacks a season ago. And assuming he passes a summer class needed to graduate, Sherrod could quickly rise to the top of a Syracuse two-deep currently flush in position-changers and inexperience.
Syracuse Will Be Far Better If …
it begins playing better outside the Carrier Dome. At home, the Orange was feisty a year ago, finishing 4-3 and even putting a scare into LSU. However, on the road the team was winless and often uncompetitive. Consider the defensive numbers, for instance. In seven home dates, Syracuse yielded 380 yards per game, respectable considering the team’s talent. Away from home, though, it gave up 520 yards a game, a level of inadequacy that needs to be addressed by the new staff.
Best Offensive Player
Junior WR Steve Ishmael. The Orange is desperately seeking playmakers … to complement Ishmael. Despite being teamed with uncertainty at the quarterback position in 2015, Ishmael really took off to become the team’s best pass-catching weapon. And he’ll be even more dangerous this season if QB Eric Dungey is healthy from start to finish. Ishmael possesses the overall skillset to become the first Syracuse wide receiver drafted by the NFL since Mike Williams was taken in 2010.
Best Defensive Player
Junior LB Zaire Franklin. Franklin is the exception to the rule on defense for Syracuse, a reliable player the staff can count to stuff the run and pressure the pocket from middle linebacker. He’s tough and quick, but his instincts are arguably his best asset. And his ability to play with good range will be particularly valuable to the Orange as the team shifts to a zone-based Tampa-2 style of defense.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Sophomore QB Eric Dungey. Dino Babers’ new rapid-fire system will be ineffective if the quarterback is unable to deliver the ball consistently. And Dungey is the clear-cut top QB at the coach’s disposal this season. The sophomore plans to run less going forward to avert additional head injuries, yet he remains a good fit for an attack that asks its triggerman to be multidimensional. Dungey has the potential to unlock the abilities of the backs and receivers, helping to amplify the Syracuse offense.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Orange reaches five wins, one better than a year ago, and is playing crisper in November than September. This is going to be a process for both sides of the ball, so any dreams of an overnight turnaround are just that … dreams. There’s just one layup on the schedule, the opener with Colgate, so a run at six wins and bowl eligibility seems unlikely at this early stage. This season ought to be more about installing new systems, improving throughout the year and setting the table for a breakout 2017.
Oct. 8 at Wake Forest. Playing off the theme that the Orange must become a better road team, this trip to Winston-Salem will be its best shot to capture a win outside the Carrier Dome. The Atlantic Division squads are similarly talented, so it ought to be a competitive game. With a back-loaded slate that includes tough matchups with Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Pitt, a victory at Wake Forest could boost Syracuse’s confidence before entering the teeth of the schedule.
2015 Fun Stats
– Passing yards per game: Syracuse 156.8 – Opponents 256.7
– Yards per play: Syracuse 5.1 – Opponents 6.2
– Third-down%: Syracuse 34% – Opponents 37%