Can you believe it? The season is (basically) here. After what’s seemed like an interminably long offseason, the Syracuse football team will hit the Carrier Dome turf on Friday night to take on old school rival Colgate. So what kind of opponent are the Orange going to get in this FCS squad?
Well first things first, it’d be kind of ridiculous to expect anything less than a win against Colgate. Even in the most dire times over the past decade, the Orange have gone 9-0 against FCS level opponents. The lone scare over that stretch came in the near-fiasco against Villanova a couple of years back, but for the most part, an FCS level opponent has meant a blowout victory for Syracuse. That includes the last time the Orange faced Colgate in 2010, with Syracuse winning 42-7.
But let’s also make one other thing clear, here: Colgate isn’t necessarily a pushover. The Raiders finished the 2015 campaign ranked No. 13 in the nation in FCS, and enter this year ranked No. 16 in the preseason top 25. The ‘Gate reached the FCS national quarterfinal last season before falling to Sam Houston State. They went undefeated in the Patriot League on their way to a conference crown.
That said, the Patriot League is a far cry from the ACC. Last season, Colgate played only one FBS level opponent, getting blown out by a very good Navy team 48-10 in the season opener. In fact, the Raiders haven’t played many FBS level teams over the past several seasons, and when they have, it’s consistently been a lopsided affair. The closest recent result they’ve had against an FBS team was in 2014, when they lost 30-10 to Ball State.
This season, Colgate is led by preseason Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, Kyle Diener. The 6-foot, 235 pound senior linebacker from Florida led the Raiders with 129 tackles last season, including 78 solo stops. Diener only had one sack but the Raiders did a decent job getting after the QB otherwise, tallying 36.0 sacks on the year. On the flipside, the Colgate offensive line allowed just 13.0 sacks last season.
A bit surprisingly for a team that went 9-5 last year, Colgate was actually outscored on the season 401-356 – or an average of 28.6 to 25.4 points per game. Offensively, Colgate featured a pretty balanced run/pass attack, totaling 2,889 rushing yards and 2,552 passing yards. But make no mistake, Colgate is a run first team, operating out of the pistol and running the read option.
The team’s top rusher was actually quarterback Jake Melville, who returns for his senior season after amassing 1,073 yards with an average of 5.8 yards per carry. He also scored 11 rushing touchdowns, though that was second on the team to James Holland. Holland, a junior this season, scored 16 times and picked up 732 yards.
Melville led the offensive attack by a pretty wide margin in terms of carries, and the 6-foot-1, 200 pound QB was also responsible for every single yard gained through the air last year. He also finished the season with 11 touchdown passes against just two interceptions, completing just under 55% of his attempts.
In other words, while Colgate can certainly get some yards through the air, expect a healthy dose of the read option from Melville and the Raiders. This will be a good challenge for Syracuse’s young defensive ends, as well as its talented linebacking corps. If the Orange make the proper reads against Colgate’s read option offense, it’ll likely be a very long day for Melville and his cohorts.
That said, the one FCS game that Syracuse nearly blew against Villanova two years ago became a nail biter and near disaster because of the team’s inability to stop a talented running quarterback. Now, Melville isn’t the athlete that John Robertson was for the Wildcats, but Syracuse still needs to contain him. Colgate’s strength is in its running game, so if the Raiders need to start trying to air it out to stay in the game, things could get out of hand in a good way for Syracuse.