Orange Watch: A youth movement for Syracuse football only one game into the season

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With 15 first time players seeing the field vs. Rhode Island, the quality of recruits continues to escalate for Orange football

Item: According to the official participation report, 15 true freshmen (13 scholarship players and two walk-ons) played against Rhode Island in SU’s opening season shutout win over an inferior FCS opponent, and with a mantra to win now and qualify for a post season bowl it’s simple; let the best players play regardless of program status, and provide that youthful talent as much game experience as possible.

At first glance following last year’s three win season, what a refreshing look to all three units for Syracuse as dictated by the lopsided game situations in the 47-0 rout of Rhode Island last Friday night. For all of the goodness that Terrel Hunt has brought to the program including a much prized bowl game victory in 2013 over another P5 autonomy conference foe, and his leadership to be elected a captain of this year’s squad, his unfortunate second straight season-ending injury has unexpectedly brought the even brighter immediate future of the Orange to the forefront after just one important tune-up opener, and before conference play suddenly appears Saturday afternoon with Wake Forest (1-0) the Dome visitor (12:30 p.m. ET / ACC Network – and a post first quarter celebration of Coach Mac).

When freshman quarterback Eric Dungey makes his first collegiate start against the Demon Deacons, he’ll certainly be gunning for the coaching motto of the importance of judging how much players improve from game one to game two of a season after a week of film review and practice repetitions. Dungey’s passing arm and running under control when he needed to (134 yards of total offense) against URI stood out considering the fluidity of the sudden injury to Hunt on a non-contact play, along with the distinct, cutting moves and different running styles of the frosh trio of Jordan Fredericks (14 carries for a game high 102 yards and a 13 yard touchdown run), walk-on Jacob Hill (17 for 75) and Dontae Strickland (2 for 42, half coming on a 21 yard touchdown scamper).

“Coming in as a true freshman, and also the quarterback, you have to be the principal of the team, and he stepped up,” Fredericks said afterwards of his fellow classmate Dungey’s composure in the huddle. “He made the right calls at the line; it felt like he’s been here two years already running this offense, and I felt comfortable being back there with him.”

» Related: Hunt injured, Syracuse rolls in opener

On defense, seven freshmen, primarily up front and in the secondary, played against Rhode Island from a ‘Cuse ‘D’ that returned only three starters, another indication that the quality of recruit has stepped up with the three year move to the ACC.

“In recruiting, we really felt like we had a great class coming in, big guys included,” Scott Shafer said after many of those underclassmen contributed to the opening victory. “This freshmen class, they have not acted like freshmen since the day they got on this campus. We’ve got a great youth movement here, (a) great future for us.”

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Catching up with two thoughts on stories that developed while away on summer vacation:

How could there NOT be one, single ex-Syracuse player on the Football Writers of America’s 75th anniversary team, dating back to the association’s formation in 1944, announced in mid August?

No John Mackey at tight end on the first, second or third team selections? Keith Jackson of Oklahoma, and Pitt’s Mike Ditka we can understand as first/second team picks, but Gordon Hudson of Brigham Young over Mackey as the third TE on the list?

Sure, Hudson finished his career as the reception yardage leader among tight ends, teaming with Steve Young at BYU in the early 1980s, but Mackey led SU in receptions with just eight in 1962, showcasing a completely different era of football, was a standout blocker, and was the 19th player selected in a much smaller 1963 NFL Draft, evidence of his stellar college career and overall abilities. And, isn’t the award for “the most outstanding collegiate tight end” named…the John Mackey award?

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Upon the ACC releasing the entire conference basketball schedule last week, that’s a pretty tough nine game stretch that Mike Hopkins could end up coaching, depending on whether or not the university is successful with its appeal of the NCAA sanctions handed down last March.

Not only does the initial nine games of conference play include meetings with North Carolina, at Duke, Notre Dame, and at Virginia and Pittsburgh, there’s three consecutive road games in one stretch (followed consecutively by a rare four straight home ACC games, crazy), allowing the intriguing opportunity to observe much more than a sneak preview of Jim Boeheim’s successor calling the shots in the heat of league games.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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