Fifty years from now when Syracuse fans are perusing the annals of sports seasons past, the most recent chapters authored by the football and men’s basketball teams will certainly gather more dust than page turns. Both squads are guilty of crashing and burning this past year, although perhaps that’s a bit unfair to Jim Boeheim’s bunch. Boeheim and his staff have raised the level of the hoops program to one of the true elites over the past six seasons. Orange football fans are used to seeing the team struggle for the better part of the last decade. Both teams had reasons to be optimistic heading into the year but the train quickly derailed early in each season. (Check back in tomorrow for Part II, focusing on the basketball team.)
Fresh off an exciting win in the Texas Bowl and with Terrel Hunt firmly entrenched as the team’s signal caller, Hunt and Co. avoided a near disaster against FCS opponent Villanova in the opening game of the year at the Carrier Dome. The Orange escaped with a 27-26 2OT win only because the Wildcats blew a chip-shot 25-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Hunt wouldn’t be long for the season as his year came to an end as the result of a broken foot suffered in a Dome loss to Louisville. Less than five games into the season and an already struggling offense lost arguably its best player. This led to musical chairs of quarterbacks the rest of the year. Austin Wilson, A.J. Long, and Mitch Kimble all took snaps. There’s an old saying that if you have multiple quarterbacks than you don’t have any quarterbacks. What really could’ve helped the offense was a solid, steady run game. Speaking of.
Syracuse’s running attack wasn’t the road-grading force envisioned for a squad that returned Prince-Tyson Gulley, a renewed Adonis Ameen-Moore, and redshirt freshmen George Morris II and Devante McFarlane. True freshman Ervin Philips showed glimpses of big play ability from the backfield throughout the year. Perhaps what signified the running game’s season-long struggle was the fact that Syracuse only scored two rushing touchdowns the entire season from the running back position. And they both came in the first game against ‘Nova.
With the offense a mess and the defense hanging in there against some quality opponents early in the year in Notre Dame, Louisville, and Florida State three straight weeks, the final shoe to drop was turmoil on the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator George McDonald was demoted to Wide Receivers Coach after the offense struggled against Louisville. The move clearly didn’t sit well with McDonald who made his feelings about it quite public. Shafer, McDonald, and new OC Tim Lester all put on a united front but the damage had been done. No one was surprised when McDonald, Syracuse’s best recruiter at the time and a man with a wealth of Florida connections, departed for NC State shortly after the season concluded.
With the horse out of the barn and seemingly everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, Syracuse closed the year with five straight losses. The offense scored seven points or fewer in three of those losses. All that was left for Shafer was to hold his 2015 recruiting class together (which he mostly did) and look towards Spring ball.