Well, it’s been 35 weeks since the Orange has played competitive football in front of its fans, and the dome is about to become home once again for the 2014 campaign. The Orange will be facing off with a Villanova Wildcats team that finished the season 6-5. The Wildcats play in the FCS Division – but according to Coach Shafer, they are one of the toughest FCS schools and Syracuse will have its hands full. ‘Nova is currently ranked 12th in the FCS preseason poll.
The player to watch for the Wildcats is quarterback John Robertson who had a monster season last year. Robertson, just a sophomore, won the Jerry Rice Award in 2012, an award given to the top freshman in the FCS. He is now a nominee for the Walter Payton award, the FCS MVP trophy. In his sophomore year, Robertson threw for 1,957 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added 1,405 yards rushing and 20 TDs when scrambling.
The Wildcats return a lot of talent, with seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters returning. The Wildcats did lose two key defensive linemen, though. Syracuse has only faced off with the Wildcats three times before, and the Orange leads the head-to-head series 2-1.
For the Orange, all eyes are going to be on Terrel Hunt, of course. Entering his first season as starter, Hunt has improved tools to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Fans’ expectations are huge after his dramatic Texas Bowl and Hunt doesn’t have to try too hard to top last year’s overly mediocre offense. On the defensive side of the ball, fans should look out for the Syracuse front seven, which will look to pick up where last year’s team left off. The Orange did not allow a 100-yard rusher all season. They will have their hands full with Robertson and his carrying ability.
Unlike in years past, where Syracuse has opened its season against tough foes like Penn State, Shafer is opting to ease into the season to build momentum heading into a tough schedule filled with skilled teams. Syracuse has played eight games against FCS teams in the last 12 years and has won all of them.
Villanova’s only FBS opponents last year were the Boston College Eagles and they lost the opener 24-14. They did keep pace with the Eagles, however, a team that the Orange defeated down the stretch.
Syracuse and ‘Nova are certainly familiar with each other and the Wildcats know plenty about the Dome. But, barring a huge upset, it is unlikely that an FCS school could really create a rivalry on the gridiron with an FBS school. If the Orange are upset, however, that’ll make this season’s men’s basketball game against the Wildcats that much more intense.
The opener against Villanova can be seen on ESPN3 on Friday night. This should be a win for the Orange, but the last thing the team can do is overlook the Wildcats. FCS means nothing when on the field and Villanova has nothing to lose. If Syracuse runs a high tempo offense, they should wear the Wildcat defense down in the second half and come away with a reasonable win. Syracuse 34, Villanova 24.
Posted by: Jason Weingold