2014 Record: 3-9
F/+ Rank: 80
Wins: Villanova, Central Michigan, Wake Forest
Losses: Maryland, Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Duke, Pittsburgh, Boston College
Coming off of a 7-6 season in 2013 (complete with a Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota), nearly everyone had the Syracuse Orange as a potential dark horse candidate in the Atlantic Division. What was there not to love? They went to a bowl game despite being incredibly young. They returned their starting quarterback, their running back, nearly every target in the passing game, their entire starting defensive line, starting linebackers, starting defensive backs, and a couple of guys who were solid off-the-bench additions.
Despite a 27-26 win over Villanova that took two overtimes, the Orange hit their stride in a 40-3 demolition of Central Michigan. In that game, the Orange Crush defense held CMU to 34 yards on the ground and just 183 in the air. Terrel Hunt completed 20 of his 30 passing attempts for 175 yards and a touchdown, adding 92 yards and three scores on the ground.
But the next week against Maryland, the Orange committed two turnovers, including an 88-yard pick six, and Syracuse lost, 34-20. This happened despite 589 yards of Syracuse offense to just 369 for the Terps, including 370 on the ground.
Things went from bad to worse over the next three weeks when Syracuse lost to Notre Dame (31-15), Louisville (28-6), and Florida State (38-20). Following the Louisville game, the roof started to collapse on what was to that point a slightly volatile Orange season. Terrel Hunt was injured, breaking his fibula and ultimately keeping him out the rest of the season. Scott Shafer relieved offensive coordinator George McDonald of his duties, replacing him with Tim Lester. And dreams of crashing the FSU/Clemson party atop the Atlantic Division started slipping away.
The defense, however, remained stalwart. At 2-4, the Orange went into Winston-Salem to face Wake Forest and scored two both a pick six and a fumble return for a touchdown in a 30-7 victory. Even though Wake would finish with one of the worst offenses in college football history, it was impressive, with the Demon Deacons gaining only 170 yards, 68 after quarterback John Wolford was knocked out of the game.
But that was it for the season. The offense began sputtering in a 16-6 loss to Clemson and a 24-17 loss to NC State. After losing 27-10 to Duke, Coach Shafer destroyed a podium, and the team limped home to a 3-9 record after getting throttled by Pittsburgh and BC.
Series: Syracuse leads, 29-19
First matchup: 1924 (Syracuse won, 10-0)
Last matchup: 2014 (BC won, 28-7)
Scott Shafer was hired to coach the Syracuse Orange in an effort to provide continuity following the departure of Doug Marrone. A former defensive coordinator at Stanford and Michigan, he took over in '13 after Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills. At the time, Syracuse had gone from a sub-.500 team struggling to win in the Big East to a bowl bound 8-5 program.
Despite going 6-6 in his first year in the ACC and 3-9 last season, Shafer's retained the reputation of a defensive-minded head coach. They were the 38th best defense in allowing points, averaging 24.3 points scored against. In fact, if the offense had managed to be somewhat serviceable, the Orange would've likely been a bowl team for a third straight season.
Unfortunately, though, the offense completely sputtered, and Shafer, only in year two as a head coach, is a name residing at the majority of the bottom of ACC coaching rankings entering the '15 season. Last year's offense was anemic, ranking 121st in points scored (17.1 points per game), 105th in passing yards, and 93rd in rushing yards. Yes, he lost his quarterback, but he had virtually every other part of the machine still there.
What made it worse was the offseason revelation that Syracuse used one cadence on offense during the entire season. Some of the blame will fall on the now-deposed George McDonald, but the responsibility ultimately falls on Shafer.
So now Scott Shafer enters 2015 on the hot seat and in need of an improved year, especially offensively. Is he a good, fiery coach like we thought coming out of '14? Or is he a mad man who is better suited as a coordinator?
After entering last year with virtually every piece of the puzzle from the season prior, Syracuse has to do some work to replace departed pieces. They don't have an experienced running back, and only Steve Ishmael is back in the receiving corps. At least they still have Hunt, who might be the team's best rusher.
Defensively, Ron Thompson is going to be very good, and Wayne Williams is back in the middle of the line. Departures decimated the linebackers, however, starting with Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Zaire Franklin is back, but he's only a sophomore.
Sean Hickey started 38 straight games for 'Cuse and is the largest hole to fill - both literally and figuratively. The Orange will need to find a new left tackle to protect Hunt now that he's off to the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Ivan Foy is back at right tackle, and Rob Trudo is back at left guard. But John Miller is gone at center, meaning someone has to play there.
Returning Quarterback: Yes
Syracuse fans can thank the Almighty Lord above that Hunt is back because without him, the offense would really be in some hot water. We'll see how good the redshirt senior is with a bunch of unprovens around him.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
Syracuse is a consensus pick for last place in the Atlantic Division among pundits and with good reason. The Orange return only a quarterback who missed half the season due to injury on offense - an offense that, by all accounts, was horrendous last year. The defense is gutted just enough this year to leave them in transition, which means they'll give up a lot of points without the capacity to put up equal or more points.
Then there's the off-field stuff. No, not the FSU type stuff. We're talking more about the public relations nightmare going on at the Carrier Dome. After the athletic department bungled the whole situation with the sacred number of 44, they still have a volatile head coach whose biggest enemy may be himself.
Syracuse may win the Orange Eagle again in 15-16, but it won't be because of the football team.
There is really something to be said for a team who plays with nothing to lose. Hunt is a better QB than people give him credit for, and with continuity at the offensive coordinator, the Orange may actually use more than cadence this year.
On top of that, Shafer's a defensive wizard (credit where credit's due), and he very conceivably could have this team not miss a beat despite its graduations. If he coaches that unit to save his job, a few more wins wouldn't hurt.