As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2017 ACC conference slate when it plays Wake Forest on Nov. 11.
THIRD SEASON BREAKTHROUGH: 2016 proved to be a breakthrough year for head coach Dave Clawson in his third year at Wake Forest, with his team making a bowl game for the first time after two 3-9 seasons. The Deacons also won three conference games, which was one more than his first two seasons combined. “Last year was our first winning season since ’08, and I thought it was very important for our players, as last year was year three in our program, that I felt we were making improvement,” Clawson said at ACC Kickoff. “I think showed that we are a very improved football team, and now our challenge is to continue to elevate the program.” The improvement has also shown in the team’s depth. “This will be the first time in our time there that the amount of seniors and juniors in the two-deep outnumbers the amount of freshmen and sophomores,” Clawon said. “And so what you’re seeing is all the benefits of the redshirting we’ve been doing, is that we have a lot of fourth year juniors, third year sophomores.”
WHO TO WATCH FOR: Much like recent years, there will be a battle for the starting quarterback position between John Wolford and Kendall Hinton. They are a part of eight starters returning on the offensive side of the ball, including many of its major position players and three starters on the offensive line. The receiving core is led by Tabari Hines, who finished with 38 receptions, 447 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2016. Meanwhile, running back Matt Colburn (626 yards) returns to the backfield to help improve an offense that finished near the bottom of the NCAA. On defense, look out for DE Duke Ejiofor, who led the team with 10.5 sacks.
PREDICTION: The Deacons went to a bowl game last year predicated on the strength of its defense. But only five starters return on that side of the field, plus coordinator Mike Elko was hired away to Notre Dame in the offseason. Wake Forest is certainly improved, but the ending record may not show for it. SYRACUSE 31, WAKE FOREST 24.