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ACC Season Preview: Syracuse

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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First-year Syracuse head coach Dino Babers comes to the Orange following consecutive divisional titles at Bowling Green.

First-year Syracuse head coach Dino Babers comes to the Orange following consecutive divisional titles at Bowling Green. Syracuse is coming off of a four-win campaign in 2015 and was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division by media members at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte.

Offense

Babers will look to bring plenty of changes to Syracuse’s offense with his hurry-up spread scheme. Leading the way for his up-tempo attack will be sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey, who accounted for over 1,600 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns as a freshman last fall. Dungey is a dual-threat signal caller that has shown the ability to produce big plays when he remains healthy. There are questions for the Orange in the running game with just two starters returning along the offensive line to pave the way for sophomore running back Dontae Strickland. The good news, however, is that the Orange have an elite option at receiver with the athletic Steve Ishmael. While his numbers did not jump off the stat sheet last year, Ishmael is one of the ACC’s best receivers, and his production should skyrocket in the new system.

Defense

Much like the offense, the defense will get a significant makeover with new coordinator Brian Ward implementing the Tampa-2. The strength of the defense will undoubtedly be the linebacker corps, which is led by junior Zaire Franklin, who finished with 81 tackles last fall. There are major concerns along the defensive line, where the Orange do not return a single starter. They have a pair of promising defensive tackles to man the middle, but it will be imperative that the Orange find defensive ends capable of providing consistent pressure, especially with the departure of Ron Thompson. The secondary should be improved after finishing last in the league in pass defense in 2015.

Special Teams

Kicker Cole Murphy is a Groza Award semifinalist who has two years of starting experience heading into 2016. The Orange will likely turn to freshman Sterling Hofrichter is in line to replace Riley Dixon in the punting game. Brisly Estime led the ACC in punt returns last fall, returning two all the way for touchdowns.

Schedule

The Orange draw Notre Dame on the rotation this fall, but the remainder of the non-conference slate is very manageable. Syracuse will face Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in the divisional crossover contests, and will get two of their three toughest divisional games in the Carrier Dome.

Team MVP: Zaire Franklin, LB

Rising Star: Eric Dungey, QB

Newcomer to Watch: Moe Neal, RB

Babers should add some excitement and explosiveness to the program, but Syracuse simply does not have the athletes to be a legitimate contender in the Atlantic Division. Expect the offense, though, to be much more productive than it was in 2015.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.