ACC

Pressure builds at Syracuse as bad years pile up

Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, left, grabs the face mask of Maryland’s Roman Braglio during their game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Maryland won 34-20.
Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, left, grabs the face mask of Maryland’s Roman Braglio during their game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Maryland won 34-20. AP

Chuck Amato once said the only “hot seat” was the one in his 1969 Corvette.

Four months later, the N.C. State coach was fired after a 3-9 season in 2006. Sometimes coaches don’t see the end coming before it’s too late.

If you believe everything you read on the Internet, Virginia’s Mike London and Miami’s Al Golden are the two ACC coaches on the hot seat.

Golden hasn’t quite won enough, 28-22 in four years, and London hasn’t won very much, 23-38 in five years. But Miami’s in a classic “beggars can’t be choosers” economic situation and London’s securely tied to the athletic director (Craig Littlepage) who hired him.

Then there’s Scott Shafer. Syracuse hired a new athletic director (Mark Coyle) in June, one from a football school (Boise State). New ADs, more often than not, tend to want to sink or swim with their hires.

That leaves Shafer, in only Year 3 but coming off of a 3-9 disaster, in a precarious position. Syracuse ended the 2014 season with five straight losses and a 1-7 ACC record. This after Shafer went 7-5 in his first season, nicely dovetailing off the momentum established by predecessor Doug Marrone.

Syracuse has a proud football program, it produced the greatest football player ever in running back Jim Brown, but it also has suffered through its share of bad football recently.

Syracuse went eight straight seasons, from 2002 through 2009, without a winning record and with a pair of 10-loss seasons in 2005 and ’07. Last year’s dip was the seventh losing season in the past 10 years.

Even under the circumstances Coyle was hired, after a long-running academic scandal on the basketball side – which cost the men’s program a year in the NCAA tournament – patience is unlikely to be a virtue.

That likely means Shafer needs to show some progress in 2015. That’s going to be difficult after significant losses on the defensive side of the ball and with a talent vacuum on offense.

The return of senior quarterback Terrel Hunt should help some of the Orange’s problems on offense. Hunt broke his leg in the fifth game of the season and the Orange’s offense, shaky with him, never recovered without him.

Syracuse scored 22 touchdowns last season, or 50 less than Georgia Tech did. The Orange’s 17.1 scoring average was 121st out of 128 teams last season. Wake Forest (14.8 ppg) was the only Power 5 team below Syracuse.

Having to find seven new starters on offense might not be such a bad thing. The makeover on defense, with only three returning starters, is.

Apropos of the state of the program, the big story this offseason had nothing to do with the current football team, rather the confusing decision to “unretire” the No. 44, which was worn by Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little and others before it was officially retired in 2005.

The school made an announcement on May 19 that the No. 44 was “back” and then pumped the brakes a day later insisting the status of the number had not changed.

The real problem for Shafer is he doesn’t have anyone in the program worthy of the No. 44 jersey. Unless he finds a way to reverse last year’s trend, he won’t be around much longer to find the next great Syracuse hope.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

ACC preview schedule

Atlantic Division

May 31: No. 1 Florida State

June 7: No. 2 Clemson

June 14: No. 3 N.C. State

June 21: No. 4 Louisville

June 28: No. 5 Boston College

July 5: No. 6 Syracuse

July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest

Coastal Division

July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech

July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech

Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC

Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke

Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt

Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami

Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia

Syracuse at a glance

2014: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

Coach: Scott Shafer (10-15, third year at Syracuse)

Returning starters: Offense (4), Defense (3), Special teams (2)

Plus

▪  Either through injury or neglect, there was never really a chance to see what receivers Brisly Estime (10 catches, 140 yards) or Ashton Broyld (15 for 174) could do last season.

For an offense short on talent, these two figure to be important factors and should benefit from the return of a healthy Terrel Hunt at quarterback.

▪  Considering all the problems on offense, Syracuse was more than respectable on defense last season. The Orange ranked No. 27 in the country in total defense (349.2 yards per game) and in the top 40 in both passing and rushing defense.

Minus

▪  Syracuse was pitiful with the football last year. The Orange ranked No. 111 in yards per play (4.9) and No. 121 in scoring offense (17.1 points per game).

You can chalk some of that up to Hunt’s injury but not all of it. The roster needs an upgrade in talent.

▪  Most of the important parts from last year’s defense, including linebacker Cameron Lynch and safety Durell Eskridge, are gone. Coordinator Chuck Bullough has done commendable work but he’s basically starting over after losing eight starters.

Best-case scenario

After a 3-0 start, the Orange splits road games with South Florida and Virginia, and sweeps expat Big East brethren Pitt and Boston College at home to get to six wins and back to a bowl game.

Worst-case scenario

The defense doesn’t score against Wake Forest, a road win over USF melts in the Tampa sun and the only thing Scott Shafer’s third team has to show for its efforts by Thanksgiving is a win over Rhode Island.

Bottom line

Syracuse had one of those years where everything that could go wrong did. The Orange had more talent, particularly on defense, than was indicated by its 3-9 record. Even with the heavy personnel losses on defense, the return of Hunt should net them a 4-8 or 5-7 finish.

Newcomer to watch

Dontae Strickland, RB

Syracuse got bubble-screen happy last year and got away from its running game. Strickland (6-0, 180 pounds) has long-term potential to get the Orange’s ground game back on track.

Schedule

Sept. 4: Rhode Island

Sept. 12: Wake Forest

Sept. 19 Central Michigan

Sept. 26: LSU

Oct. 3: OPEN

Oct. 10: at South Florida

Oct. 17: at Virginia

Oct. 24: Pittsburgh

Oct. 31: at Florida State

Nov. 7: at Louisville

Nov. 14: Clemson

Nov. 21: at N.C. State

Nov. 28: Boston College

Schedule analysis

That home date with LSU was a coup for the Orange. LSU bought out a home-and-home with N.C. State to play the Orange instead. Syracuse will have a chance to win all of its other nonconference games, which means it needs three ACC wins to get back to a bowl.

Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College are three winnable home games and trips to Virginia and N.C. State could net a win. In all, it’s an attractive schedule but not really one conducive to progress in the win column.

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