Special Teams & Schedule Analysis — 2017 Syracuse football preview

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Cordy will be among SU’s special teams returners

SPECIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK:

Senior Cole Murphy will head into the season with both placekicking and kickoff duties for the fourth season. Murphy stands fourth in school history in points with 201 and moving to second overall (currently held by John Biskup at 296 points) is not out of the question, but Murphy will need to reverse the trend of his career, as his accuracy on both field goals has slid each season. After making over 81 percent of his field goals as a frosh, Murphy tailed off to a 55.6 percent accuracy mark as a junior, in spite of nailing a career-high 51-yarder last season. Four other kickers are on the SU roster, with the most intriguing being freshman Jeffrey Chan, who was All-Hawaii Honorable Mention as a high school senior.

A potential threat to Murphy’s job could come from Sterling Hofrichter, the redshirt sophomore punter who earned multiple Freshman All-America honors last season. Hofrichter, who also handled placekicking duties in high school, was a pleasant surprise for the Orange last season, averaging 42.7 yards per punt, forcing 21 fair catches and sending 24 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line.

Wide receiver Sean Riley will likely be involved as a kickoff returner again. Riley handled 53 kickoffs as a freshman last season, averaging 20.7 yards a return, and had a 68-yard return at Clemson. Riley also returned a pair of punts last season and will likely be the secondary option there to Antwan Cordy, who was named the primary returner on the season-opening depth chart.

SCHEDULE (all listed times Eastern, time and TV coverage subject to change):

Date Opponent Time/Result Location
Fri, Sep 1 Central Connecticut State 7 pm Carrier Dome
Sat, Sep 9 Middle Tennessee 3:30 pm Carrier Dome
Sat, Sep 16 Central Michigan 3:30 pm Carrier Dome
Sat, Sep 23 LSU TBA Baton Rouge, LA
Sat, Sep 30 * NC State TBA Raleigh, NC
Sat, Oct 7 * Pittsburgh TBA Carrier Dome
Fri, Oct 13 * Clemson 7 pm Carrier Dome
Sat, Oct 21 * Miami TBA Miami Gardens, FL
Sat, Nov 4 * Florida State TBA Tallahassee, FL
Sat, Nov 11 * Wake Forest TBA Carrier Dome
Sat, Nov 18 * Louisville TBA Louisville, KY
Sat, Nov 25 * Boston College TBA Carrier Dome

SCHEDULE BREAKDOWN:

Make it three years in a row where the Orange start a campaign with three consecutive home dates and the first game being against an FCS opponent. While Central Connecticut State is a walkover on paper, Middle Tennessee State is coming off an 8-5 campaign in Conference USA and an appearance in the Hawaii Bowl, not to mention returning the quarterback and top wide receiver of a high-powered offense. Oh, and their new defensive coordinator is former SU head coach Scott Shafer. Central Michigan returns to the Carrier Dome for their second visit in three years and the Chippewas are also coming off a bowl appearance.

» Related: Defense — 2017 Syracuse football preview

And then, the slate gets serious quickly.

The Orange make their first trip ever to Baton Rouge to face #12 Louisiana State (they met in New Orleans in 1964), then travel to North Carolina State, who got votes in both preseason polls and looks to make it four straight wins over the Orange. SU then returns home for visits from Pittsburgh and defending national champion Clemson. The Panthers should be a big revenge game for Syracuse. #5 Clemson is 4-0 against SU in ACC play, winning by an average of over 27 points per game, including a 54-0 rout last season.

That matchup is followed is followed by a pair of trips to Florida. The first sees the Orange head to Miami for a battle with the #18 Hurricanes, reuniting a pair of former Big East foes for the first time in 14 seasons. Following their bye week, SU flies back to Florida to face #3 Florida State. The Orange have not defeated the Seminoles since their first meeting in 1966 and the ‘Noles have won all four ACC matchups by an average of over 32 points per game.
The last three games of the season are bookended with a pair of winnable games at the Dome against Wake Forest and Boston College. The middle game sends SU to #17 Louisville, who will be led by returning Heisman Award-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson burst onto the national scene early last year by shredding SU for 411 passing yards, 199 rushing yards, and five total touchdowns.

SCHEDULE ANALYSIS:

With five nationally-ranked opponents on the schedule (and four of them as road trips) and every FBS opponent coming off a bowl appearance, it is a daunting slate for a Syracuse team looking to get back to a bowl. To ensure that bowl bid, Syracuse needs to almost make a clean sweep of the seven non-ranked teams, as they can suffer only one loss.
First, a 3-0 start is key, as the Orange need to take care of business against teams from outside of Power 5 conferences. Stubbing a toe against a lesser team (at least on paper) is a bad sign for the rest of the schedule, making an upset of a ranked team almost mandatory to attain bowl eligibility.

The lone unranked team on the Orange road schedule, North Carolina State is the one most ripe for the picking, and not just because they are unranked. The Wolfpack will host SU between a trip to Florida State and home game against Louisville on a short week. NC State could be a little banged up after playing Florida State (the same will likely be true of the Orange after their trip to LSU), but they play Louisville on the Thursday after they face Syracuse. Perhaps they will be looking past the Orange just a touch, aiding SU’s road victory hopes.

Pittsburgh looms large on the Syracuse schedule and not just because the Orange will be looking for revenge. With five other home games the Orange can definitely win, getting the Panthers at home could be the way for SU to get a sixth win at home.

While it would be great to spring an upset somewhere in the trio of games against Clemson, Miami, and Florida State, the Orange will hopefully just get through that stretch healthy so they will have a full complement of players available to close the season.

Home games against Wake Forest and Boston College are both good candidates to go into the win column and the Orange will likely need both to get to a bowl. The road game with Louisville in between those two will be another steep climb.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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