Anxiety may the word to describe the feeling of Syracuse’s preseason heading into the fall. Scott Shafer heads a brand new staff with a group of unproven players in the ACC. There are position battles left and right, including defensive line and wide receiver. The quarterback competition is still a mystery. The Orange opens up against a very good football team, and an age old rival on national television.
With just days until the opener, The Fizz takes a look after last season and poses the top five biggest questions for the Orange:
- Who’s SU’s starting quarterback not just at MetLife, but for the entire season?
It’s easily the most talked about story this off-season. It comes down to Terrell Hunt and Drew Allen. The route most SU fans/media see Shafer going is Allen starting against the Nittany Lions. He’s a 5th year QB transfer from Oklahoma, but does that mean the former back-up to Sam Bradford and Landry Jones HAS to play all season as the starting quarterback? Hunt is giving Allen a real run for his money. The fact Shafer is letting this play out could mean one of two things. He’s really having a hard time deciding because both players have strongly impressed, or his firey competitiveness is kicking in. Good for Hunt in making this an interesting battle. The bottom line is Allen is here for just a season, but if he underperforms at any point, Hunt could be called upon in the 2nd half of the season to get him experience.
- After Jarrod West, which wide receiver emerges as a go-to option?
Given all the hype surrounding the quarterback controversy, this year’s wide receiving corps hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. There are plenty of questions here as well. The expectation is West emerges from a third option to a number one target. Jeremiah Kobena, Quinta Funderburke, and Adrian Flemming could fill this void. Kobena showed stretches last season as a speedy go-getter, giving defensive backfields a headache. Funderburke finally gets to take the field after his transfer. Flemming played in just five games last year and saw barely any action. Will they give Ashton Broyld a chance to shine with this new staff? Allen’s got the build and arm strength to lead a pass-oriented offense, while Hunt adds a dual-threat presence. We can’t forget either that this offensive attack George McDonald is scheming has a run-first mentality with a two-headed monster in Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley returning. If the Orange does stick by its ground-and-pound mindset, McDonald could turn to perhaps freshman Brisly Estime as a threat in the slot or the outside. He’s got the speed to keep up with an up-tempo attack. Throw around all the names, because after West, it’s a free for all at wide receiver.
- Can the Orange defense carry the load early on?
If there’s any season in recent memory where SU needs its defense to step up, it’s this one. The veteran presence in the locker room exists with this group. Jay Bromley returns as a captain on the defensive line, while Marquis Spruill holds a leadership role in the middle at linebacker. Keon Lyn is a rising senior that looks to anchor the secondary. Shafer and Chuck Bullough are asking a lot from the defense to make stops. An offense with a new quarterback and questions at wideout could mean a lot of low scoring games. The firepower of the prototypical ACC offense is no comparison to the old Big East. The defense-minded Shafer has to have his troops in line right from the get-go.
- How much of a difference maker, on the field, is George McDonald?
He’s deservingly received a lot of credit on the recruiting front. But McDonald has yet to prove his worth in an actual game. He’s gotten a lot of credit before Syracuse has played a down. What will his schemes look like? Does the up-tempo style stick around after the Marrone era? How does he like to split the run/pass ratio? It’s year number one in the ACC, so not everything may work smoothly right away. It’s up to McDonald to make adjustments throughout the year. Can The Mailman deliver!?
- How much pressure is on Shafer in his 1st season as head coach?
This is the first rodeo for Shafer as head coach. He reflected to SU Athletics about his previous coaching jobs in football:
“My first college job was a graduate assistant position for Bill Mallory at Indiana. We opened up the season against a real good Notre Dame team and the head coach there was Lou Holtz. When I looked at those two guys, both from Ohio, where I am from, and coaching at the higest level, what I remember the most was during pre-game warmups Coach Holtz yelled at me for being on the wrong part of the field. I remember thinking, getting kind of pissed at him, thinking, alright we are in someone’s backyard now and it’s on. All the stuff I read about him went down the drain and I realized that it’s on. I also remember all of the games that we weren’t supposed to win and we did. I’ve had a lot of those over the years, a lot of them here, and those are the ones I remember the most.”
Over and over again, the hardnosed Shafer has confidence in his team to produce a winning season. Where he must be careful is hyping up his bunch too much. Not that his team isn’t capable, but conference competition may be just that much better. He and his staff rallied together once Marrone left to build the 2013 recruiting class, so he’s proved he can be resilient in the most doubtful situations. Shafer’s got to continue to be himself: highly spirited, while also staying within himself to remember coaching a winning program doesn’t happen overnight.
Posted: Brendan Glasheen