1. Sum up Syracuse's 2014 season for LSU fans that may have never watched them play?
Boatloads of injuries and a terrible offensive scheme (implemented by former offensive coordinator George McDonald) derailed the 2014 season very early on, and it never really got back on track. The Orange limped through the last half of the year with a rotating cast of characters at QB (four different players took snaps under center in 2014) and a dinged-up group of receivers and offensive linemen. It was very difficult to watch. So if you "may have never watched them play," consider yourself very lucky last season (especially coming from someone that watched every game... twice).
2. With the Orange coming off of such a rough record, what was the mood and the vibe around the team through the spring?
The mood's all about proving people wrong now, which I guess is a plus. The decisions in terms of scheme, plus injuries, soured a lot of people on the program -- one that looked to be on the rebound for a half-decade. So this year will be all about proving the doubters wrong and putting a much more watchable, smart product on the field. The coaching staff is also very much on the hot seat, which could either have a very positive or very negative effect on how this season goes down.
3. Any surprises or disappointments?
Fans were a bit surprised to find out that Terrel Hunt -- who started last year before getting injured -- would be named the first-string QB so early, and some of his struggles in last Saturday's spring game are unlikely to change that surprise, or the calls to give someone else a shot at winning the job. So that may be a disappointment as well. Admittedly, since the team decided that the spring game was more of a "spring scrimmage" this year, despite a real need to show this fan base something that looked like real football, there's not a whole lot for us to base opinions on right now.
4. LSU and Syracuse are not typical football opponents -- what's the thought process on this potential matchup?
Well, neither I nor anyone that follows this team is really sure of the thought process here. As I mentioned when the teams were initially discussing the move, this is both exciting and terrifying. Admittedly, I'm pretty psyched to make the trip down to Baton Rouge in 2017 (have never been, myself), but on the flip side, this is yet another case of the Syracuse football program scheduling itself into a hole. LSU is an excellent, incredibly well-run SEC program at the moment. We're a struggling, middling ACC program. So this doesn't benefit us a ton, especially when we don't try to recruit Louisiana kids at all and won't as a result of these two games, either.
As far as the game this fall, it's unlikely that it's all that close. The Tigers may take a quarter or so to get used to the Carrier Dome's oddities, and maybe Syracuse's defense makes a few stops early. But all of that will shift at some point. The Tigers' team of future NFL stars will take over, and the Orange will lose. It's a bummer from our standpoint, but it's also the most likely result.
5. Who and what on offense and defense should LSU fans begin to familiarize themselves with?
On offense: Take a look at Hunt, who has had some brighter moments when he's at full health (in particular, the CMU game last year, plus the 2013 Boston College and Minnesota wins). He's big and mobile, and with some time to throw, he can actually deliver some nice passes. Steve Ishmael is a star in the making at receiver, and is the only SU pass-catcher who can probably challenge the LSU secondary in any meaningful way. In the slot, Erv Phillips could be pesky in his first year at that position (he switched over from running back). And running the ball, Devante McFarlane and George Morris will split time as the feature back -- a first for both after a few years grabbing carries here and there.
Defensively, the line's sort of rebuilt, but there's experience there. Ron Thompson is going to be a very strong pass-rusher on the edge, and the linebackers (in particular, Marqez Hodge and Zaire Franklin) are going to try and wreak some havoc with the blitz. The Orange blitz a ton, and it's really the best thing they have going for them -- on defense, and probably the entire team, too. This helps make up for a young, questionable secondary that has struggled to really make stops in recent seasons. If LSU can throw the ball downfield, they'll be able to expose the Orange corners and safeties pretty quickly, though there's hope on our part that this year's group has improved a bit from last season.