Today we talk with John Castillo, our friend from Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician about Syracuse football. They are a program in flux, with a new coach, a tough schedule, and a couple of Orange Eagle trophies. What does 2016 hold for the Orange?
BCI: Scott Shafer is gone, replaced by Dino Babers. What's been the biggest change early in Babers' approach to the Orange?
TNIAAM: Obviously Dino Babers comes in as an experienced head coach, so he has his established staff and systems that he can just carry over (vs. starting from scratch as first-time head coach Shafer had to do). Babers's big change is all about speed and endurance. This team is going to be running a no-huddle attack with upwards of 80 snaps per game (vs. less than 70 in Shafer's offense). For a team built to grind it out, it's a huge shift but one the players seem very willing to take up.
BCI: What's the QB situation like with Syracuse this year? Last year unraveled a little bit after Terrel Hunt was hurt, but who is coming back and who is the guy to start?
TNIAAM: Eric Dungey is back, and is slated to start barring some sort of injury issue again. You guys didn't get to see him last year, but he's hands-down our best option on the roster, and a player that stands to benefit a lot from an offense that stresses quick releases. While the offensive line replaces some pieces, Dungey is still likely to get hit less, so that increases the likelihood he's both healthy and productive. Beyond him, Zack Mahoney returns, and freshman Rex Culpepper comes in, though he'll likely redshirt. Since Mahoney's an option QB, you may see (pro-style passer) Austin Wilson as the no. 2 on the depth chart.
BCI: The defense had its moments but by and large wasn't very good either. How's that shaping up this year?
TNIAAM: The defense probably won't be very good again, but at least they'll be on the road to fixing things. Instead of the constant blitzing of the old scheme, Babers brings a Tampa-2 with him that will emphasize much better coverage and run-stopping. So the long-term gains are clear there, but we don't have the personnel to implement it all just yet. The secondary's young and needs time to learn how to cover receivers. The linebackers are experienced, but are geared to blitz, not play in coverage. The defensive line is woefully inexperienced and thin, which is the biggest trouble area.
BCI: What's the status of the Carrier Dome and how far along/left to go is the renovation shaping up?
TNIAAM: The renovation hasn't begun just yet, and I'd probably bet it starts post-basketball season in 2017 at absolute earliest. The whole campus is really undergoing a big change, and the Dome is just a portion of that overall investment. As you may have noticed, the Dome won't necessarily be a "dome" anymore, which is mostly just a way to identify a legal loophole to get out of the idiotic contract with Carrier. While we enjoy the building and the home-court advantage it's provided over the years, it's definitely behind the times. Plus a hard-top roof isn't going to change anything... other than the roof.
BCI: What's the best case/worst case look for the Orange this year?
TNIAAM: We're going to write some articles about this in a couple weeks, but I'm seeing 3-9 as the floor (and hoping I'm not wrong there) and 7-5 as a very idealistic season. If the team can't grasp the offense and the defense struggles more than we think, it's going to be a very difficult fall. Should the offense click quickly and the defense play at a competent level, we're looking at similar quality to last year, but with a couple more wins (we did lose a couple close games last season, and those could shift the other way with a capable offense).
BCI: okay - now what are reasonable expectations?
TNIAAM: Most Syracuse fans are being pretty reasonable about this season. We'd love 6-6, but understand the schedule's rough and there's a lot of change going on. I think 5-7 is within reach if the team stays healthy, and a lot of us would be fine with that if the Orange show progress. The last two years have been a putrid brand of football to watch. So I think we're just looking forward to a more entertaining product that may or may not come with more wins right away.