Forget what you’re reading from the prognosticators across the country when it comes to Syracuse University football. At the end of the day, most predictions – and this goes beyond just Syracuse, and applies to the majority of predictions for teams around the nation – are done lazily and with a minimum amount of effort and investigation. And in fairness, that’s probably what should be expected. After all, can you honestly expect a writer to thoroughly, exhaustively research more than 100 teams and stay up to date on all of the moves and machinations that go on throughout the summer and into fall camp?
It’s really an impossible task, which is why a platform like ESPN employs so many writers to cover individual teams, conferences, and regions. Even when you boil it down in that way, it’s still hard to believe that an ESPN regional writer will be as aware of the goings on with Syracuse football as the local beat writer, for example. So when they compile their preseason predictions, they take last year’s results and stats, look at the returning roster, maybe glance briefly at the incoming recruits and their rankings, and do a quick perusal of the latest headlines surrounding the team. And then they predict that Syracuse will have a rough year this year, because the team had a rough year last year and lost several seniors and didn’t bring in a bevy of 4 and 5-star prospects.
What they don’t pay attention to are the things going on behind the scenes, or the glimpses at the younger guys with potential who didn’t see the field either because they were redshirting or playing behind veterans who had already become entrenched in their roles on the team.
That’s why it kind of makes me scratch my head when people say, “Well Syracuse won’t be very good because they were 3-9 and lost so many players.” Yes, the Orange lost some talented guys like Durell Eskridge, Cam Lynch, and Sean Hickey…but at the same time, how great could the players lost have really been if the team only won three games? None of last year’s departed seniors were drafted into the NFL, and right now the ones still in camp are fighting hard to hang onto their roster spots.
This is taking nothing away from their production on the college gridiron or their contributions to Syracuse football. You won’t find many bigger supporters of Cam Lynch than me, but what I’m trying to get across here is that I look at the guys who were young and inexperienced, and therefore stuck behind him, and Dyshawn Davis, and Darius Kelly, and Eric Crume, and I don’t really get the same kind of panic that the national sportswriters are trying to tell me I should. Those guys created some holes, for sure – but the program has guys in place to plug them. They just happened to be young and in need of time to adjust to the college game.
There’s every reason to believe that this year’s linebacking group could be as good, if not better than last year’s starting trio. The team returns Marqez Hodge, the elder statesman among the starters who might actually be only the second or third best linebacker on the team. Zaire Franklin came on strong last year and has already become such an important cog that he was voted as a team captain as a sophomore – the first sophomore captain at SU since 1945.
Dyshawn Davis was a good athlete at the third linebacker spot, but the Orange are stocked to the brim with great athletes at the position. Parris Bennett is looking like a breakout performer this year, and Jonathan Thomas is an athletic freak. The Orange also has a pair of talented young guys in Troy Henderson and Shy Cullen – two guys who would get playing time most years but who might wind up redshirting because the position is perhaps the deepest on the roster.
One of the other areas of concern on defense has been in the secondary. I definitely share the concern, believe me. I’ve been watching Syracuse football for a very long time, and ever since I can remember, the team has generally had a tendency to give up big plays in the passing game. Syracuse hasn’t really had a legitimate shutdown corner since Kevin Abrams, aside from maybe Will Allen, and we probably shouldn’t talk about him too much these days. The safety position was thought to be the potential weak link, with both Eskridge and Kelly having moved on, but by all accounts the coaches seem to think that the tandem of Antwan Cordy and Rodney Williams, with Chauncey Scissum and one of the true freshmen (it’s looking like that’ll be Kielan Whitner, but it could end up being Christopher Fredrick or Daivon Ellison – or hell, it could be all three) is going to wind up being one of the stronger units on the team. Williams in particular has been getting a ton of buzz, with coaches suggesting that had he not been hurt last season, he would have played a significant role as a true freshman.
I could go on about the defensive line, and how the defensive tackle spot was a position that had a lot of people worrying. That’s another position that seems to have reloaded very nicely while no one was paying attention. Crume was a terrific player last season but it’s looking more and more likely that the rotation of John Raymon (if he stays healthy), Kayton Samuels, Chris Slayton, and especially Steven Clark could wind up being the most gifted quartet of DTs the Orange have boasted in years.
Or I could go over to the offensive side of the ball, and point out once again that the biggest causes of last year’s historically bad offense are gone. Gone is George McDonald and his bubble screen. Gone are the injuries (knock on wood) that plagued the team and kept the starting quarterback out for half the season. Terrel Hunt missed seven games last year, and so did Brisly Estime. Ashton Broyld missed seven games as well, but, uh, we won’t talk about him this year.
Devante McFarlane. AJ Long. Eric Crume. Ivan Foy. Wayne Morgan. Kendall Moore. Luke Arciniega. Austin Wilson. Wayne Williams. Er, add him to the Broyld pile, actually. Marqez Hodge. John Raymon. Michael Lasker.
These are all guys who missed games last year, some of them missing multiple games, and all of them players at positions where the Orange could have sorely used them. Scott Shafer has been quoted saying he’s never been a part of a team that suffered so many key injuries throughout the year, and I believe him. That’s only scratching the surface of players who were banged up during the year.
Right now, other than a few nagging injuries here and there, the Orange seem to be at just about full strength. Ron Thompson has his boot off and is expected to play tomorrow, and so is Raymon. Hunt is back to 100% and spent the offseason working out with quarterback guru George Whitfield. Steve Ishmael has packed on 10 pounds of muscle and looks ready to emerge as an All-ACC receiver this season. Erv Philips has likewise gotten stronger, and is being put in a new, innovative position that’ll take advantage of his ability to create plays in the open field. Prince-Tyson Gulley is gone, but Jordan Fredericks has given fans optimism that the future of the running back position might be wearing No. 22 this year. And speaking of the future, obviously I’ve already jumped deep into the optimism surrounding our apparent QB of the future, Eric Dungey.
What I’m saying here is that, while Syracuse struggled in 2014, that doesn’t mean the team is absolutely going to struggle again. Is it possible? Of course it is. But there are also plenty of signs of improvement, some due to the hard work of the players and coaches, and others due to avoiding just pure, dumb luck. I’m still not ready to reach for the stars, but I see absolutely no reason that this team shouldn’t be able to win six or seven games and get back to its fourth bowl game in the past six seasons.