When Syracuse hits the podium at the ACC Kickoff on Thursday, there will be plenty of questions on the minds of Orange fans across the country. Here are the most pressing ones you can expect to be asked tomorrow.
1. What’s the reasoning behind the switch to the nickel defense?
One of the most surprising developments from the release of the 2018 Syracuse Football media guide was the preseason depth chart. Instead of Babers’ traditional 4-3, Tampa 2 defensive scheme, the team has shifted to a 4-2-5 defense. The most obvious reason is the lack of experience at linebacker, which we’ll get to in a minute. The change also allows Antwan Cordy to thrive a the nickel position, a spot that seems well suited for the athletic redshirt-senior. Overall, it should take some pressure off Syracuse’s group of inexperienced linebackers in the passing game.
2. Can an improved offensive line lead to a breakout season for Dontae Strickland or Moe Neal?
There’s no secret, the production from Syracuse running backs under Babers has been awful. In fact, Syracuse hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Doug Marrone was at the helm of the program. However, the offensive line situation hasn’t exactly been ideal either, making it difficult for Strickland or Neal to get in any sort of rhythm. This year, that shouldn’t be a problem. With a combined 78 games started between Syracuse offensive lineman, the group should be much improved. Barring any major injuries, this will be the most talented, experienced front five that Syracuse has had under Babers. Does that lead to a breakout season for a Syracuse running back?
3. With so much inexperience at linebacker, what can we expect?
Even though it appears SU is shifting to a nickel defense, the linebackers will still be relied upon. The two starters, Kielan Whitner and Ryan Guthrie, have just four starts between them, all belonging to Whitner. How is this inexperience going to impact Syracuse’s defense, which had it’s struggles even with an experienced group of linebackers last season?
4. What’s it going to take to keep the team trending upwards in the second half of the season?
You know the story, Syracuse hasn’t won a game after its bye week in either of the past two seasons. In fact, the Orange lost five straight games to close last season after its Friday the 13th upset of Clemson. Things seemed to change after that game, especially on the defensive side. Syracuse got embarrassed in the second half of the Wake Forest game in the Carrier Dome when it allowed 64 points. One of the biggest factors has been the health of quarterback Eric Dungey. When the 6-foot-4 senior is out on the field, the team is totally different than when he’s not. This year, though, Syracuse has a capable backup (Tommy DeVito) waiting in the wings ready to step up if his name is called.
5. Which receiver is going to have a breakout season?
In each of the past two seasons, Syracuse has had an All-American receiver (Amba Etta-Tawo, 2017 and Steve Ishmael 2018). This year, the receiving corps is led by juniors Devin Butler and Sean Riley and senior Jamal Custis. We’ve seen what all of these players can do, but only in small sample sizes. The player with the most upside may be Custis. The 6-foot-3 receiver missed time due to injury last season, but showed flashes off skills that could translate to becoming SU’s leading receiver this season. Riley will continue his duties at punt and kick returner, while also looking to up his numbers with the offense.