With a dominant 62-10 win over Wagner last week, Syracuse football is off to its best start in the Dino Babers era, but things are only just getting started. The Orange have their toughest opponent yet coming up on Saturday as ACC play gets going with Florida State. Despite the Noles coming into the game with a 1-1 record after a loss to Virginia Tech in week one and a nail-biting win over Samford, FSU is once again loaded with talent and has a lot of players to keep an eye on, but for the sake of brevity, let’s narrow it down to three.
When it comes to the most electrifying players in the country, running back Cam Akers is right near the top of the list. At one time the top running back recruit in the country, Akers had a stellar freshman season in 2018, going for over 1100 yards of total offense and six touchdowns as the Noles top running back. He hasn’t slowed down in his second year. The Mississippi native already has 179 yards through the first two games of the season. At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, he’s not the most imposing figure, but he more than makes up for that lack of size with his big-play ability. He’s averaging more than six yards per carry through the first two games of the season and already has a pair of runs over 25 yards, including an 85-yarder against Virginia Tech. He proved what he could do against SU last season with a 199-yard, two-touchdown performance and with another summer of experience under his, we should expect even better things from Akers on Saturday.
According to Eric Dungey, this guy right here may be the best defensive end/pass rusher that Syracuse sees all season and when you take a look at his numbers, it’s easy to see why. After leading all freshmen in the country with 9.5 sacks in 2016, he added another 4.5 as a sophomore last year and already has 1.5 through two games this season. But the numbers don’t even tell half the story of how special this guy is. At a whopping 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Burns is always going to be one of the most physically intimidating guys on the field, but there’s more to like about Burns than just that frame. First and foremost, he is one of the most relentless pursuers in all of college football. Even when it seems like he’s way out of a play, his internal motor keeps him going and helps him make a lot of hustle plays that other guys simply don’t get to. On top of that pursuit, he’s also incredibly quick (4.64 forty) and athletic for his size. There are plays where he seemingly comes out of nowhere to make tackles because he’s constantly following the football and has the speed and agility to get to any spot on the field. When you couple that with absolutely massive arms that always seem to find the football (team-leading three forced fumbles last year), you’ve got a guy that projects really well at the next level (Dungey thinks he’ll be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL draft) that could cause havoc off the edge for Dungey and company on Saturday.
It’s not very often that we get this far into an edition of three players to watch before seeing the other team’s star quarterback, but that just speaks to how stacked this Florida State roster is because Deondre Francois is still one heck of a QB. After missing nearly all of last year with an injury, Francois is healthy and still has all the makings of an outstanding college quarterback. The one thing the Orange will have to game plan for that they didn’t have to against Western Michigan or Wagner is Francois’ ability to use his legs at a high level. Unlike Eric Dungey, we won’t be seeing huge chunks of yardage from Francois when he tucks and runs, but the stellar mobility he has in the pocket allows him to evade pass rushers (which has already been a problem for SU this season) and turn broken plays into big gainers in the passing game where his elite-level arm strength really allows him to shine. The physical tools are almost all there, but he big problem area for Francois is his decision-making. He’s already thrown three picks compared to just three touchdowns through the season’s first two weeks and he becomes especially inaccurate when he’s forced to throw the ball downfield, sailing a lot of passes over his targets’ heads. If the Orange can find a way to force him into obvious passing downs and take away the easy passes he’s so comfortable in throwing, then they may just have a chance to slow him down, but with all the tools he’s got, Francois will still get his.