No. 62 Syracuse
New head coach Dino Babers injected much-needed energy into Syracuse football last year — even if it didn't show in the win column. He delivered big second-year jumps at his two previous stops and has the quarterback, offensive skill players, veteran linebackers and intriguing transfer-laden secondary to do the same at Syracuse.
The biggest problem? The schedule is a nightmare.
2016 Record: 4-8 (2-6, ACC)
Syracuse missed a bowl game for the third-straight season and ninth time in the last 12 years. Their gave up 62 points to Lamar Jackson and Louisville in Week 2 and never recovered, yielding 50 or more points four times on their way to averaging an ACC-worst 38.6 points per game (120th nationally).
The offense, however, took a step forward under Babers. They averaged 11.3 more points, 165 more passing yards and 120 more total yards.
Head Coach: Dino Babers (2nd year, 4-8 overall)
Syracuse failed to win five games fo the third-straight season but this four-win season brought optimism for the future under Dino Babers.
The first-year head coach revamped a stale offense with his high-flying system he developed under Art Briles at Baylor and perfected at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. Now it's just a matter of getting the right players to turn the Orange into an offensive juggernaut in the ACC.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Eric Dungey, RB Dontae Strickland, WR Steve Ishmael, WR Ervin Phillips, WR Jamal Custis, OT Jamar McGloster, OT Cody Conway, G Aaron Roberts, C Colin Byrne
Eric Dungey hit the jackpot when Syracuse hired Babers, an offensive guru and former quarterbacks coach.
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound dual-threat quarterback improved dramatically as a sophomore, bumping his completion percentage by five points, slightly raising his yards-per-attempt average and throwing 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
"Coach always says being in his head," Dungey said in March. "So I think when I'm really going to learn the offense, we're going to have a down and distance and I'm going to understand, 'OK this play is going to come in and have a mindset of what the gameplan is that week and be in coach's head and see the way he's calling the game and thinking, so I can quickly go from that to reading the defense and trying to slow the game down and make the right read."
Dungey returns second- and third-leading receivers Ervin Phillips and Steve Ishmael — who combined for 138 catches, 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns — along with oft-injured Jamal Custis. The 6-foot-5, senior has appeared in three total games the last three years.
"I just want to play football," Custis said in April. "It's been a long time. I haven't really played since I've been here, to be honest, and I feel like I can do a lot of good things. I just want to play football and help the team."
After relying on a young, patchwork offensive line last year, the group returns a lot of experience, including sophomore center Colin Byrne. They'll pave the way for junior running back Dontae Strickland, who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry but should have more room in 2017.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Chris Slayton, LB Parris Bennett, LB Zaire Franklin, LB Jonathan Thomas, S Antwan Cordy, S Rodney Williams
Syracuse ranked near the bottom of the FBS in nearly every defensive category, including total yardage (122nd), sacks (115th), yards allowed per play against conference foes (126th).
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brian Ward has a lot more experience to work with in year one, including an all-senior linebacker group in Jonathan Thomas, Parris Bennett and Zaire Franklin (below). The latter pair combined for 211 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and six passes defended.
The defensive line returns experience but tackle Chris Slayton is only proven player in the front four. The 6-foot-4, 296-pounder has 14 tackles for loss in first two seasons, including nine last year to rank second on the team.
The secondary is the position group to watch this fall. They added three JUCO but the improvement still needs to come from returning players, namely talented safeties Antwan Cordy and Rodney Williams. Cordy dazzled a sophomore in 2015 before missing all but two games in 2016 with injury.
Notable Player Losses
WR Amba Etta-Tawo, DT Steven Clark
Syracuse didn't lose much from last year's four-win team.
Receiver Amba Etta-Tawo far exceeded expectations his first and only season at Syracuse after transferring from Maryland. He ranked among the ACC's receivers with 94 catches for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Junior defensive tackle Steven Clark was medically disqualified in June. Though he wasn't a game-changing piece to the Orange's defensive puzzle, he was still a veteran with a lot of game experience whose absence hurts and already-thin unit
Notable Player Additions
RB Markenzy Pierre, TE Ravian Pierce, G Airon Servais, DE Brandon Berry, S Mykelti Williams, CB Devin Butler, CB Jordan Martin
Markenzy Pierre is the type of player that prompts "how did he slip through the cracks?" questions. The three-star prospects from Florida took his only Power Five offer and could see immediate playing time.
Elsewhere, JUCO transfer Ravian Pierce was atop the spring depth chart at tight end, as was redshirt freshman Airon Servais at guard. And three transfers are competing for starting spots in the secondary: Mykelti Williams (JUCO), Devin Butler (Notre Dame) and Jordan Martin (Toledo).
"We're going to have the toughest schedule in the country next year," Babers said in April. "…It's not lip service. It's not me trying to 'duh duh duh duh.' Look at the schedule. There is no one who is going to have a tougher schedule. There is definitely no one with a tougher schedule in the second year of a rebuild."
After opening with three-straight home games, Syracuse visits LSU to close out their non-conference schedule. It is the second half of a home-and-home series that began with a Tigers' victory at the Carrier Dome in 2016.
|Friday, Sept. 1
|vs. Central Connecticut State
|Saturday, Sept. 9
|vs. Middle Tennessee
|Saturday, Sept. 16
|vs. Central Michigan
|Saturday, Sept. 23
|Saturday, Sept. 30
|at North Carolina State
|Saturday, Oct. 7
|Friday, Oct. 13
|Saturday, Oct. 21
|at Miami (FL)
|Saturday, Nov. 4
|at Florida State
|Saturday, Nov. 11
|vs. Wake Forest
|Saturday, Nov. 18
|Saturday, Nov. 25
|vs. Boston College