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1. One unit can sink an entire team
The Orange should improve in 2014. The team that won four of its final six returns most of the reasons.
We still don't know about the long-term prognosis. We don't know a ton about Scott Shafer's head coaching potential, and we don't know a ton about what offensive coordinator George McDonald wants to do. But we know that the Orange made a bowl in an inevitable down year, and we know they've got some interesting pieces.
I was half-right.
Scott Shafer, former Stanford, Michigan, and Syracuse defensive coordinator, has engineered a slow-motion defensive renaissance. He inherited a defense that had ranked 86th in Def. S&P+ in 2008, and in four years as Doug Marrone's D.C., his Orange D ranked between 42nd and 63rd. Since he took over as head coach, Syracuse improved to 37th in 2013, then 33rd. His defense has combined big-play prevention with aggression.
His offense has been a disorganized mess. The days of Ryan Nassib throwing to Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales seem like a decade ago. Shafer hired ace recruiter George McDonald away from his post as Arkansas' receivers coach, and he had to give McDonald the offensive coordinator job to do it. But to the extent that McDonald had an offensive philosophy, it didn't really gel with Syracuse's personnel. He appeared to want a pass-first, up-tempo offense, but he had iffy passers and iffy receivers. Syracuse finished 2012 with one of the hottest offenses in the country and ranked 32nd in Off. S&P+ for the season. It fell to 88th in 2013, then 110th last year.
Any hopes for a third consecutive bowl appearance last fall were sabotaged by the offense. Incumbent quarterback Terrel Hunt struggled, then got hurt. New skill-position weapons didn't emerge. McDonald's pace-and-efficiency offense featured the former without much of the latter, which created quick three-and-outs.
After five games in 2014, McDonald was demoted. After the season, he moved to NC State.
Entering his third year, Shafer's Syracuse program is close to a crisis. The defense must replace four of its top five linemen, three of five linebackers, and the top four defensive backs. That means the pressure is on the offense, not only because it just dragged down the ship, but because the D is almost certain to regress.
Shafer's got the pedigree. His recruiting has been decent, and he's proved he has a strong defensive mind. But as with plenty of other defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches, offense is threatening to take him down.
When the season begins, offensive coordinator Tim Lester will have been on the job for about 10 months. They'll get a healthy Terrel Hunt back. We'll see if a more organized offense can help Shafer stave off hot-seat demons. I'm not optimistic.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 80|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|13-Sep||at Central Michigan||85||40-3||W||98%||50.3||100%|
|27-Sep||vs. Notre Dame||34||15-31||L||25%||-15.5||1%|
|18-Oct||at Wake Forest||101||30-7||W||64%||8.2||88%|
|29-Nov||at Boston College||36||7-28||L||22%||-17.7||1%|
|Points Per Game||17.1||121||24.3||38|
2. No chance against good teams
There are two ways to look at last season. On one hand, you could note that the offense started off well (6.1 yards per play in the first 4 games) before cratering (4.2 in the final 8) and that Syracuse went from interesting to awful.
Or you could just note that the Orange were competitive against mediocre teams and woeful against good ones.
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 50): 28% (record: 0-6 | avg. score: Opp 29, Cuse 10)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 51-plus): 58% (record: 3-3 | avg. score: Cuse 24, Opp 20)
The defense was more successful against lesser teams, as one would expect, but the offense was much more successful.
McDonald's demotion coincided with Hunt's injury, and none of three quarterbacks -- freshman AJ Long, redshirt freshman Austin Wilson, or sophomore Mitch Kimble -- was able to provide competent play. In Hunt's absence, the three combined to complete 52 percent of their passes for four touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and their struggles made it difficult to gauge the potential benefits of changing the offensive coordinator.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||35.2%||121||Succ. Rt. +||95.2||86|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.0||105||Def. FP+||99.0||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.3||123||Redzone S&P+||93.7||82|
|Q1 Rk||112||1st Down Rk||98|
|Q2 Rk||71||2nd Down Rk||114|
|Q3 Rk||62||3rd Down Rk||98|
3. Wanted: big plays
Whether Hunt was at quarterback, or whether it was a grab bag of not-yet-ready youngsters, big plays were lacking. The Orange did have running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore, and 17 rushes of 20-plus yards at least ranked in the middle of FBS (60th). But their 29 passes of 20-plus yards ranked 100th.
This was an offense predicated on quick passes to the perimeter, which should provide a high completion rate and the occasional break-one-tackle-and-go big play. But the completion rate was far below average considering the distance of the passes, and the broken tackles never really came.
Tim Lester comes from the Bill Cubit tree -- he was the quarterback when Cubit was tinkering with a newfound spread offense as Western Michigan offensive coordinator in the late-1990s, and he was Cubit's quarterbacks coach at WMU for two years in the mid-2000s. This is his first major coordinator position, but one assumes the tempo-and-short-passing tendencies didn't go out the window when McDonald left town. You have to have the personnel.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|AJ Long||6'0, 177||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8290||89||165||935||4||8||53.9%||17||9.3%||4.5|
|Terrel Hunt||6'3, 234||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222||83||145||983||1||4||57.2%||3||2.0%||6.4|
|Austin Wilson||6'3, 217||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7984||28||50||253||0||4||56.0%||2||3.8%||4.3|
|Kenterius Womack||6'3, 185||Fr.||NR||0.8600|
|Eric Dungey||6'4, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8434|
4. Welcome back, Terrel
Hunt isn't a perfect fit for a pass-first offense. His biggest asset is his ability to distract defenses with his legs -- not including sacks, he rushed about 10 times per game at more than 6.5 yards per carry -- but aside from a tidy performance against Central Michigan (20-for-30 passing, albeit for just 175 yards), Hunt wasn't very accurate. He hinted at accuracy in completing 61 percent in 2013, but he struggled to find a rhythm in 2014.
Still, if you're listing pure offensive assets without worrying about fit or identity, the list basically looks like this:
1. Offensive line
3. Sophomore receiver Steve Ishmael
Despite woeful short-yardage success, Syracuse's line stats (67th in Adj. Line Yards, 49th in Adj. Sack Rate) were far better than the overall offensive stats. That's a good sign considering six players with starting experience return (90 career starts), even if three-year starting tackle Sean Hickey isn't one.
Lester should use Hunt's legs, especially near the goal line. Syracuse averaged just 3.3 points per scoring opportunity last fall, sixth-worst in the country. Opponent adjustments make that number look a little bit better, but the Orange had no confidence when it came to turning chances into points. With a good line and Hunt, that should be less of an issue, even if the offense isn't creating many chances.
|Terrel Hunt||QB||6'3, 234||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222||49||324||6||6.6||5.5||51.0%||1||1|
|Ervin Philips||HB||5'11, 179||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8211||45||194||0||4.3||3.2||42.2%||0||0|
|George Morris II||RB||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8577||35||101||0||2.9||6.0||17.1%||1||0|
|Devante McFarlane||RB||6'0, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8590||28||169||0||6.0||11.6||28.6%||0||0|
|AJ Long||QB||6'0, 177||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8290||28||114||2||4.1||3.0||39.3%||5||1|
|Austin Wilson||QB||6'3, 217||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7984||9||-1||0||-0.1||0.0%||1||0|
|Dontae Strickland||RB||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8731|
|Tyrone Perkins||RB||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8452|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Ben Lewis||HB||6'2, 208||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||44||24||275||54.5%||12.9%||38.6%||6.3||-25||6.3||32.6|
|Steve Ishmael||WR||6'2, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8578||40||27||415||67.5%||11.8%||62.5%||10.4||92||10.3||49.3|
|Ashton Broyld||HB||6'3, 221||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8544||23||15||174||65.2%||6.8%||56.5%||7.6||-7||7.5||20.7|
|Brisly Estime||WR||5'9, 176||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8153||22||10||140||45.5%||6.5%||68.2%||6.4||10||6.5||16.6|
|Ervin Philips||HB||5'11, 179||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8211||17||15||57||88.2%||5.0%||76.5%||3.4||-115||3.1||6.8|
|Josh Parris||TE||6'4, 244||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8323||16||9||49||56.3%||4.7%||68.8%||3.1||-63||2.9||5.8|
|Jamal Custis||WR||6'5, 223||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8473||8||4||15||50.0%||2.4%||50.0%||1.9||-36||1.9||1.8|
|Devante McFarlane||RB||6'0, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8590||7||4||49||57.1%||2.1%||57.1%||7.0||0||7.0||5.8|
|Kendall Moore||TE||6'5, 239||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8503||7||4||31||57.1%||2.1%||42.9%||4.4||-18||4.4||3.7|
|Sean Avant||WR||5'10, 201||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8099||5||3||21||60.0%||1.5%||100.0%||4.2||-16||N/A||2.5|
|Alvin Cornelius||WR||6'1, 192||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8111||3||3||42||100.0%||0.9%||33.3%||14.0||8||11.5||5.0|
|Cameron MacPherson||TE||6'3, 247||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Tyler Provo||TE||6'2, 223||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8104|
|Adly Enoicy||WR||6'5, 227||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8537|
|Trey Dunkelberger||TE||6'4, 230||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8013|
5. Size and athleticism? Check.
This offense was desperate for big plays even with Gulley (6.4 highlight yards per opportunity), Ameen-Moore (5.9), and receiver Jarrod West (14.3 yards per catch). Now all three are gone. That's scary.
Between senior George Morris II, junior Devante McFarlane, and freshmen Dontae Strickland and Tyrone Perkins, there might be hope in the backfield -- not all four will be good, but odds are decent that one will be -- but size in the receiving corps could turn into an asset. Each of Syracuse's three leading returning receivers (Ben Lewis, Steve Ishmael, Ashton Broyld) goes at least 6'2 and 200 pounds, and players like tight end Josh Parris (6'4, 244) and redshirt freshman Adly Enoicy (6'5, 227) could play larger roles.
And in Ishmael, the Cuse might have a decent No. 1. The freshman from Miami never got untracked, but after a slow start (six catches for 83 yards in his first five games), Ishmael had some strong moments down the stretch (after Lester took over for McDonald). He had nine catches for 165 yards against Florida State and Wake Forest, then caught six for 97 against Pitt. He and little-used junior Alvin Cornelius finished spring atop the depth chart.
Last fall, "bubble screen" became an expletive for Syracuse fans. Screens and short passes were a McDonald staple, and that can work, but the Orange didn't have the personnel. Lester is promising more downfield looks, and if a running back emerges to form a nice threat with Hunt, that makes sense for taking advantage of a distracted defense. Still, the last system made sense on paper, too.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Rob Trudo||C||6'4, 307||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8002||33|
|Ivan Foy||LT||6'5, 276||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7938||23|
|Nick Robinson||LG||6'6, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7444||20|
|Omari Palmer||RT||6'3, 303||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||10|
|Jason Emerich||C||6'3, 285||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8487||2|
|Alex Hayes||LG||6'2, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8156||1|
|Michael Lasker||LT||6'5, 303||Sr.||NR||NR||1|
|Seamus Shanley||RG||6'1, 276||Sr.||NR||NR||0|
|Jamar McGloster||RT||6'7, 303||Jr.||NR||NR||0|
|Jon Burton||RT||6'8, 321||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7926||0|
|Denzel Ward||LT||6'8, 331||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578|
|Aaron Roberts||RG||6'4, 266||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8153|
|Cody Conway||OL||6'6, 275||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407|
|Andrejas Duerig||OL||6'4, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8377|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.8%||83||Succ. Rt. +||101.0||58|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.2||127||Off. FP+||94.0||123|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.6||7||Redzone S&P+||116.5||21|
|Q1 Rk||30||1st Down Rk||43|
|Q2 Rk||69||2nd Down Rk||20|
|Q3 Rk||11||3rd Down Rk||64|
6. Conservative and disruptive (and starting over)
Syracuse created havoc and prevented big plays. That's not the most common combination.
The Orange almost never allowed big plays on standard downs, and when they either leveraged opponents into passing downs or found their backs against the red zone, they began attacking. The result: lots of sacks (sixth in passing downs sack rate) and lots of stops (seventh in points allowed per scoring opportunity).
After an iffy start, this formula created a stout defense. (The down side: combined with a nonexistent return game, it created sketchy field position for a handicapped offense.) The Orange allowed at least 6.4 yards per play in three of their first six games (against Maryland, Notre Dame, and Florida State) but more than 4.6 just once in the final six.
The passing downs pass rush, long a Shafer strength, thrived. Defenders got hands on passes. Syracuse nearly pulled off a top-30 ranking in Def. S&P+.
One has to figure another slow start is in the works. Syracuse had six players with at least six tackles for loss last year, but five are gone. The Orange had nine players with at least three passes defensed, and seven are gone. Shafer's defensive approach is sound and familiar, but of the 22 players on the post-spring two-deep, 12 were freshmen or sophomores (55 percent). Outside of the defensive line, that percentage rises to 71 percent (10 of 14).
Even with good coaching, youth means mistakes. The aggression might still be there, but there will be more big plays allowed.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ron Thompson||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8920||12||24.5||3.6%||7.0||3.0||0||5||2||0|
|Wayne Williams||NT||6'4, 325||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8476||5||6.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Coleman||NT||6'1, 281||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7969||12||6.0||0.9%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|John Raymon||DT||6'5, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8715||5||5.0||0.7%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Luke Arciniega||DE||6'4, 247||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8215||4||4.0||0.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Donnie Simmons||DE||6'2, 258||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8187||11||2.0||0.3%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Rony-Andre Charles||NT||6'2, 309||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Lucas Albrecht||DT||6'2, 251||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Chris Slayton||DT||6'4, 289||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8619|
|Kayton Samuels||NT||6'0, 306||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7983|
|Qaadir Sheppard||DE||6'2, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8463|
|Amir Ealey||DE||6'4, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8463|
|Jake Pickard||DE||6'6, 231||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8352|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Zaire Franklin||MLB||6'0, 231||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8550||12||37.5||5.5%||5.0||2.0||0||2||1||0|
|Marqez Hodge||WLB||5'11, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8214||9||33.5||4.9%||5.5||3.0||0||0||0||1|
|Oliver Vigille||SLB||6'2, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8216||11||5.5||0.8%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jonathan Thomas||SLB||6'1, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8596||9||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Parris Bennett||SLB||6'0, 216||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8308||8||3.5||0.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alryk Perry||WLB||6'1, 215||So.||NR||NR|
|Colton Moskal||MLB||6'0, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8172|
|Ted Taylor||LB||6'0, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8100|
|Troy Henderson Jr.||LB||6'1, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407|
7. Wanted: playmakers
End Ron Thompson combined seven tackles for loss with five breakups. Linebackers Zaire Franklin and Marqez Hodge combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Big John Raymon hinted at explosiveness -- he made only five tackles in five games after returning ahead of schedule from a knee injury, but two were behind the line.
There are some exciting components in the front seven, which should be comprised of an interesting mix of upperclassmen (Simmons, Raymon, nose tackle Wayne Williams) and fresh faces (redshirt freshmen Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton, sophomores Franklin, Parris Bennett, and Jonathan Thomas). There is both experience and opportunity for incoming freshmen like ends Amir Ealey and Jake Pickard.
But in terms of playmaking, the bar is awfully high. Last year's front seven combined for 72 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, and 25 passes defensed. Only 37 percent of the TFLs, 45 percent of the sacks, and 28 percent of the PDs return.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Julian Whigham||CB||6'1, 187||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8016||11||24.5||3.6%||1.5||1.5||1||2||0||0|
|Corey Winfield||CB||6'1, 181||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7988||12||13.5||2.0%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Antwan Cordy||SS||5'8, 178||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||11||7.5||1.1%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Wayne Morgan||CB||5'11, 187||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8994||3||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chauncey Scissum||FS||6'2, 206||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8259||12||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Rodney Williams||FS||5'10, 189||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7964||2||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Jackson||CB||5'9, 170||Sr.||NR||NR|
|Eric Anthony||SS||6'0, 194||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Juwan Dowels||CB||5'10, 179||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8308|
|Cordell Hudson||CB||5'11, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8145|
|Marquise Blair||DB||6'4, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8690|
|Christopher Fredrick||DB||6'0, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8342|
|Daivon Ellison||DB||5'7, 164||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8234|
8. Wanted: safeties
Syracuse spent time in the nickel, and it made sense, with a trio of experienced safeties. Durell Eskridge, Darius Kelly, and Ritchy Desir weren't incredible playmakers, but they were play-preventers, and they freed up the front seven to take risks. All three are gone, as is top cornerback Brandon Reddish.
The cornerback position seems reasonably well-stocked, with seniors Julian Whigham and Wayne Morgan and sophomore Corey Winfield. They are not amazing, but they're sound.
But the safety position might preclude Shafer from taking quite as many risks. At the end of the spring, sophomore Antwan Cordy was the first-stringer at strong safety while sophomore Chauncey Scissum and redshirt freshman Rodney Williams were co-starters at free safety. That might mean exciting things for 2016 and 2017, but it might be a scary proposition this fall.
Syracuse's defense pulled off a precarious balance in 2014, mixing bend-don't-break with the ability to make explosive plays. A younger 'Cuse defense might still be able to make some aggressive plays, but risk probably won't bring quite as much reward this time around.
|Riley Dixon||6'5, 222||Sr.||75||42.4||4||27||23||66.7%|
|Cole Murphy||6'3, 191||So.||45||58.6||9||4||20.0%|
|Cole Murphy||6'3, 191||So.||11-12||8-10||80.0%||5-6||83.3%|
|Ryan Norton||5'11, 186||Sr.||9-9||4-5||80.0%||0-2||0.0%|
|Ervin Philips||KR||5'11, 179||So.||25||19.0||0|
|Brisly Estime||PR||5'9, 176||Jr.||6||9.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||105|
|Field Goal Efficiency||59|
|Punt Return Efficiency||84|
|Kick Return Efficiency||115|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||108|
9. Wanted: a return man
When your offense is inefficient, your defense bends before making stops, and your special teams stinks, you are virtually guaranteed to be a field position disaster. Sure enough, Syracuse's field position margin was a ghastly minus-5.8 yards per possession, 124th in the country and worst among power-conference teams.
Place-kicking seems to be in decent hands with sophomore Cole Murphy, but the field position components, the kicks and returns, are in no way guaranteed to improve. Murphy's kickoffs weren't that deep, opponents averaged 14.3 yards per punt return (122nd in the country), and the return game appears to still be lacking unless a freshman or redshirt freshman emerges. So ... don't expect miraculous improvement here.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|10-Oct||at South Florida||90|
|31-Oct||at Florida State||17|
|21-Nov||at N.C. State||48|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-1.7% (62)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||60 / 68|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-1 / 4.0|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-2.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||9 (7, 2)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||3.4 (-0.4)|
10. It's hard to improve when your good unit loses this much
Syracuse's defense tried its best while the offense and special teams sabotaged every opportunity. An unpopular offensive coordinator was replaced mid-season, and the offense got worse (granted, with help from injuries); the offense should get more stable at quarterback but loses every decent big-play threat. And now the defense is going to feature about nine new starters.
When you finish 3-9 and rank 80th in F/+, it's hard to worry about turnover in personnel. Some new blood might not be a bad thing. Younger players like receiver Steve Ishmael, linebacker Zaire Franklin, and safety Antwan Cordy could turn out to be difference-makers.
Still, it's hard to believe odds are in Syracuse's favor. And in the 2015 ACC with its tons of top-50 squads, if the Orange improve, they'll still struggle to locate six wins. Even a 4-1 start might result in a 5-7 finish.
Long-term, you can see Shafer continuing to field strong defenses at Syracuse. But if this defense experiences a setback, the offense might not save the day, and this season could spiral on Shafer. Syracuse was just starting to build momentum under Doug Marrone, but he didn't leave a stocked cupboard. Shafer hasn't done much with what he found.