The first season under Syracuse football coach Scott Shafer, which doubled as the school’s debut in the ACC, was a roller coaster, starting low, then rocketing to some exhilarating high points. The “Orange Streak” then raced down to the bottom, eventually went through some lesser highs and lows, and roared back into the station on an upswing. Its passengers finished the ride feeling pretty happy about the experience as a whole, turning in a 7-6 record and claiming a Texas Bowl victory.
With a couple exceptions, the team’s actual play on the field lacked anything close to that level of excitement. Even after Terrel Hunt won the starting quarterback job in the third game of the season, the offense struggled for large stretches of time. It mustered a total of 90 points in the first seven games of conference play.
However, things finally clicked when SU had their backs to the wall. In the season finale against Boston College with bowl eligibility on the line, the Orange rallied for a game-winning touchdown with six seconds left for a 34-31 win. Syracuse followed that by winning their third bowl game in four seasons, rallying to beat Minnesota by scoring a touchdown with 1:14 remaining.
The Orange defense had their ups and downs, as well. In the two weeks following an embarrassing 56-0 blowout at Georgia Tech, the SU defense permitted a total of three points in consecutive dominant performances over Wake Forest and Maryland. Of course, with the team riding the high of those two wins, the defense was gashed for 52 points in a rout at Florida State.
Syracuse enters the 2014 season with a lot of momentum around the program and the arrow pointing up. In addition to three bowl appearances (and victories) in four seasons, the university also broke ground on a new indoor practice facility for the football team, which is scheduled to be completed by December, and the coaching staff has done a lot of work on recruiting their 2015 class, securing over 20 verbal commitments for that group. Shafer is looking to capitalize on that positive energy, citing a goal of eight wins in the 2014 campaign. The question now is if the players can transfer that energy to the field and reach that goal.
The second season under Scott Shafer should be described by the phrase “amped up.” The coaching staff has aimed toward improving the team’s overall athleticism, the team is looking to speed up play on offense, and Shafer set the goal of eight wins, one more than in his first campaign.
While it will not be easy, Syracuse will get to that eight-win plateau. Look for Terrel Hunt to be even better than he was late last season. Behind an experienced line and with a stable of solid running backs at his disposal, Hunt will guide the offense to a much better performance than in his first year under center. The defense will give enough in most games to enable the improved offense to win those eight games… before a bowl appearance, which means there could possibly be a ninth victory.