Syracuse fans hope that the 2014 football season goes down in the books as an aberration. After Scott Shafer’s team got out to a 2-0 start, the remainder his second season at the helm was mostly a series of gut punches, ranging from a long list of injuries to the demotion of the offensive coordinator to an often punchless offense, regardless of who was calling the plays. By the midpoint of the season, SU was on their third starting quarterback and a fourth would take snaps before the schedule was completed.
The team started the season nearly being upset at home by FCS opponent Villanova and, to make matters worse, quarterback Terrel Hunt was ejected from the game for throwing a punch at a Wildcat player. The Orange escaped with an overtime win, then blew out Central Michigan to seemingly right the ship.
The roof, however, caved in, as Syracuse lost the next four games, all by double digits. In the third of those games, Hunt suffered what would prove to be a season-ending injury, and, following that game, George McDonald was stripped of the offensive coordinator role. Quarterback coach Tim Lester took over the playcalling reins, but his only option was to continue with McDonald’s offense.
The Orange snapped the slide with a win at Wake Forest to get to 3-4, but inexperience at quarterback and injuries across the offensive line handcuffed the team over the remainder of the season. SU dropped their final five games, averaging under ten points a game in that span.
In spite of how the season wrapped up, there is still some positive momentum around the program. The highlight of the offseason was the January opening of the Ensley Athletic Center, an 87,000-square foot multi-sport indoor practice facility. Some of the 25 freshmen who accepted scholarship offers to Syracuse acknowledged the new facility was a draw in spite of last season’s on-field results.
One hit to the roster came as July wound down when Ashton Broyld was dismissed from the team. A tantalizing athlete, Broyld led the team in receptions in 2013 and was a threat to crack the top ten for career catches in the school record book, but his performance dropped off last season and the Orange will now move on without him.
The depths of the 2014 season have pretty much wiped the preceding two seasons, which were both capped with bowl victories, from the minds of Syracuse fans. With the loss of lots of experience from the defensive side of the ball, what has consistently been the team’s strongest unit in recent seasons appears to be much more of a question mark that in recent seasons. However, Scott Shafer has shown the ability to plug young players into his system and get dividends. And the offense, which enters the season a healthy unit, almost literally cannot submit a worse performance than last season’s group. The most important thing on that side of the ball is getting early positive results from Tim Lester’s system, creative confidence and momentum for the offensive unit.
Syracuse’s schedule sets up about as well as could be asked. The first three contests are games where the Orange should be favored to win and they are followed by a measuring stick game against LSU. The lone bye week is next, falling after its toughest early game and allowing the squad to recuperate for the next three games. Even if SU gets thumped in the three game stretch of Florida State, Louisville, and Clemson, there are two shots at redemption (and bowl eligibility) with NC State and Boston College remaining.
Yes, you read that correctly – bowl eligibility. The Orange will get off to a 3-0 start, keying their return to the postseason. While the first couple weeks of November will press the pause button on the drive to a bowl game, the Orange will get things moving again and return to postseason festivities. Mark SU down for six or seven wins, plus a bowl berth.