Notre Dame Football 2014 Off-Season Preview: Syracuse Orange

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Not thinking about 2008. Not thinking about 2008. Not thinking about 2008. Not thinking about 2008.

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Syracuse_medium

2013 Record: 7-6

F/+ Rank: 75

Wins: Wagner, Tulane, NC State, Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College, Minnesota

Losses: Penn State, Northwestern, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Pitt

~~~

Season Recap

Syracuse went through a rough patch under Greg Robinson (10-37, 3-25 in the Big East) from 2005-2008 but the program has quietly returned to respectability. After head coach Doug Marrone bolted for the Buffalo Bills and long-time quarterback Ryan Nassib left for the NFL it appeared the Orange were due for a significant down-turn in 2013. However, they were pretty solid in their first year of the ACC.

The season started quite poorly though. A close loss to Penn State hurt. A pair of wins over Wagner and Tulane were book ended by big losses to Northwestern and Clemson. Syracuse did settle in when the meat of conference play arrived out-scoring Wake Forest and Maryland 33-3 and tripping up BC to end the regular season. Unfortunately, the Orange were obliterated by Georgia Tech and Florida State by a combined 115-3. An upset win over Minnesota in their bowl game added something positive for a program that has strung together winning seasons in 3 out of the past 4 years.

Series: 3-3-0

Does it feel like we've played Syracuse more than 6 times? That might be due to the 3 games played from 2003-08 and the association in other sports through the Big East and now the ACC.

The Orange hold a special place in the history of Notre Dame Football for defeating lame duck Irish coaches. The 1963 contest saw Notre Dame lose in green jerseys at Yankee Stadium in Huge Devore's last game. The 2003 finale saw Tyrone Willingham embarrassed 38-12 in the Carrier Dome that signaled the beginning of the end for him at Notre Dame. And then there was the home finale in 2008.

Coach Resume: Scott Shafer (7-6, 2nd Year)

Shafer's coaching career started off slowly but it has picked up steam in recent years. He got started in the early 90's and finally joined the major conference ranks as the defensive back coach at Illinois in 2004. He was the DC at Western Michigan for 2 years before holding the same position at Stanford in Jim Harbaugh's first season in Palo Alto. Since then, he was the DC at Michigan for one year, and ran the defense at Syracuse for 4 years before succeeding Doug Marrone.

Linemen Situation: Looking Good

Syracuse is bringing back 4 starters from an offensive line that played together for the entire 13-game season a year ago. Center Macky McPherson departs and it appears former JUCO recruit John Miller has the position on lock down heading into fall camp. Right tackle Ivan Foy was suspended for the spring due to academic issues but will likely return for the season.

Jay Bromley (9 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, 74th overall pick by the NY Giants) leaves a big hole at defensive tackle but Michah Robinson (1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss), Eric Crume (2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss), and Robert Welsh (4 sacks, 7 tackles for loss) offer a nice core of returning starters up front.

Returning Quarterback: Yes

Drew Allen, a 5th-year transfer from Oklahoma, started the first 3 games of the season but was benched after throwing 6 interceptions. Terrel Hunt took over for the rest of the season and injected some life with his legs (finished second on the team in rushing) and was a competent passer.

Biggest Problem for 2014: Middle Linebacker

Syracuse has to replace Marquis Spruill (168th pick by the Atlanta Falcons) who leaves behind 49 career starts. He was a bit under-sized (6-0, 224) on the inside but had great quickness and was a very disruptive player in the Orange's aggressive defense. Spruill led Syracuse last year in tackles for loss and racked up 41 total tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his career.

Biggest Strength for 2014: Overall Returning Experience

There just aren't any major holes anywhere on the roster in terms of returning starters. Running back Jerome Smith bolted early for the NFL (he went undrafted) but 3 other tailbacks combined for 1,088 yards, plus Hunt ran for 500 yards as well. I already talked about both lines. Spruill is the only linebacker lost and even with a couple players gone from the secondary their top 4 tacklers at corner and safety are returning.

Offensive Scheme: Run-First Spread

Like many offenses Syracuse does a lot of things on offense but they are primarily a shotgun, 3-wide, scheme that leans towards the run. It's similar to Kelly's offense but with less production from the tight end position. Redshirt junior QB Terrel Hunt is a good athlete and can be dangerous on the option read. There's some under center stuff, a little I-formation, and OC George McDonald also wants to increase the tempo in 2014.

Special Teams: 4/4

Junior Ryan Norton took over the place kicking duties in week 3 last year in addition to being the team's kickoff specialist for the past 2 years. Redshirt junior Riley Dixon returns after booting 75 punts last year. Safety Ritchy Desir returns as the team's primary punt returner taking back 27 of Syracuse's 33 attempts. Four different players returned kickoffs last year and they are all back as well.

Famous Alum: Lou Reed

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member graduated with honors from Syracuse in 1964. Reed was a founding member of the rock band Velvet Underground and had a successful solo career that spanned nearly 4 decades.

Random Stat: 61.8

That is the average penalty yards per game by Syracuse last year, 108th nationally and 8th most by a major conference team.

Summary

Back in late March when I was winding down my research on all the 2014 opponents I put Syracuse as the 9th toughest game on the schedule and called them a darkhorse quality ACC team. Another year in Shafer's system and a bunch of veterans coming back might make this a sneaky tough game for Notre Dame.

One thing that raises some concerns re the quality of Syracuse's talent are some of the big losses from 2013. They won 7 games but ended up -35 in point differential and that's with a +89 advantage in the wins over Wagner and Tulane. That might be one explanation on how a major conference team with a winning record ends up ranked 75th in FEI.


Syracuse is going to be a decent team in 2014. It may not result in 7 or more wins as their schedule looks a good deal more difficult than last year. My question is whether the Orange will improve defensively. With 11 of their top 15 tacklers returning they may be a little better. However, they gave up  a combined 1,147 yards at 9.4 per play to Clemson and Florida State last year. Not that Notre Dame is going to be THAT good on offense in 2014 but this probably won't be a game where Syracuse is going to match up all that well against the Irish offense.

On the other side I think the Orange offense could offer a bit of a challenge. Hunt is a big athletic kid and his mobility could cause some problems. Lots of weapons to choose from at receiver and running back. If their offensive line can hold up I'd imagine the Syracuse offense will be a good deal better than Rice or Purdue.

Adding some intrigue to this game is the fact that it will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Notre Dame has only played in the new stadium once back in 2010. Remember how that game went?

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