2015 ACC Football Preview: Syracuse Orange


2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense (8) Defense (3)

Key Players: QB Terrel Hunt, H-Back Erv Phillips, WR Steve Ishmael

Is this a make or break year for Scott Shafer at Syracuse? With new athletic director Mark Coyle taking over at the school last January, coming in with no ties to Shafer, it would seem that a staunch improvement from the 3-9 record in 2014. This however, will not be an easy task, with a new offensive system and a defense that will have to re-load heading into the season.

The new offensive system is being installed by offensive coordinator Tim Lester, who begins his first full season at the helm after taking over for George McDonald last October. As they return eight starters, the Orange are hoping to improve upon an offense that was one of the worst in college football last season, ranking 113th out of 125 teams in the total offense statistic. Lester will be installing a playbook that features a hybrid back, or h-back, in multiple formations. The leading candidate to play the h-back coming out of the spring, senior Ashton Broyld, is no longer with the program after being dismissed this summer. The onus of starting h-back will now fall on the shoulders of Erv Phillips, who all of a sudden will possess a much bigger role than anticipated. There will also be plenty of carries for redshirt junior Ben Lewis as well, who the coaches have been raving about throughout the summer and into fall camp.

The commander of this offense will be senior quarterback Terrel Hunt, who is returning to full health after fracturing his tibia a year ago. In limited time, Hunt completed 57% of his passes for 983 yards. However, he only threw one touchdown to four interceptions, as the Orange proved their ineptitude in the passing game time and time again. At the receiver position, expect Hunt to look to sophomore Steve Ishmael often, as Ishmael is coming off of a freshman campaign in which he recorded 27 catches for 415 yards and three touchdowns. Outside of Ishmael, there is not much to choose from on the team’s receiving front. Marked extremely thin at the position, Shafer and his staff hope that Brisly Estime emerges as an offensive weapon, after being used almost exclusively on special teams in his first two seasons at Syracuse. Estime only caught 10 passes last year for 140 yards and a touchdown in the entirety of last season. To make matters worse, the Orange’s expected number three receiver, junior Alvin Cornelius, caught as many passes last season as tackles he made on special teams, three.

While the offense has questions abound, the Orange will attempt to salvage any deficiencies on that side of the ball by playing solid defense once again in 2015. Last season, the Orange ranked 26th nationally in total defense as they only allowed 349 yards per game and 33 total touchdowns on the season. If the offense was not completely inept a year ago, the numbers may have been even better. With all that being said however, the defense may not be quite so good in bailing out one of the worst offenses in college football yet again this season, as they are replacing all but three starters. Julian Whigham should anchor a young secondary at the cornerback position, while sophomore Zaire Franklin will lead a linebacker group that will be without Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, who have both departed due to graduation. Since the unit will not be nearly as experienced heading into the season, it is not a leap to suggest that they will not be quite as good as they were in 2014. However, with Scott Shafer’s defensive scheme, the coaching staff is hoping that young playmakers will step up to make up for the losses of their leaders from a year ago.

The special teams will perhaps be the jewel of 2015 Orange. What is the best way to prepare for an offense that cannot move the football? A great punter will do the trick, and Syracuse boasts one of the best in the FBS in that regard. Senior punter Riley Dixon was named to the Wuerffel Award Watch List, which is comprised of the best at the position in college football, after averaging over 42 yards per punt in 2014. At place kicker, Cole Murphy has been named to the Lou Groza Award Watch List, after hitting 13-16 attempts last year including two field goals from over 50 yards.

If this broad overview of the 2015 Syracuse Orange is not enough for you, I recorded a full season preview video with colleague Mark Rogers. The video can be seen in its entirety below, featuring a schedule breakdown and more.


Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @MikeMcDanielACC. Follow Mark Rogers on Twitter @MarkRogersTV. Also, give the site a follow @insidetheacc, and check us out on Facebook here. Mark Rogers YouTube Channel can be found here, as he examines college football teams around the country with many featured videos.

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