1. Syracuse was just 4-8 last year, but made some real progress under Dino Babers, especially on offense. What is the feeling on this team heading into 2017?
We lose Amba Etta-Tawo and Brisly Estime, plus a couple more linemen, so that causes some concern. However, last year's injuries mean experienced depth coming back and a team that's far more acclimated to this offense than they were a year ago. Essentially, the offense can go as far (and fast) as Eric Dungey can. If he's healthy and the line can hold up better than they did last season, you should see an even more dynamic Orange O in 2017.
2. Expectations were pretty low for this matchup in 2015. Has that changed any?
Scott Shafer's defenses were very boom-or-bust due to their disruptive style of play. We were pessimistic going in because of the offense, and ultimately, that ended up being the reason we failed in a 10-point loss.
I think we'd be a bit more optimistic if you guys hadn't gone out and hired Matt Canada, and the game wasn't in Death Valley. Death Valley speaks for itself, and Canada lit us up for 76 points at Pitt in last year's season finale.
3. Does it feel like the Orange are continuing to progress on offense through this spring?
Spread offensive coaches are very wary of giving away too much of the "secret sauce," so we haven't seen a ton of where this offense has progressed too. We'll see a little more this Saturday at the spring game, but still, it's very likely to be a trimmed-down version of what we'll witness during games in 2017.
Babers told us when he arrived that the team would really hit its stride around games four through six in year two. And you started to see the offense move forward as the season wore on last fall. With a year of practice and conditioning toward the faster system, I'd fully expect this offense to look even better this spring.
4. Who are some of the players that have emerged there?
Dungey's seemingly come back fully healthy after an undisclosed injury caused him to miss the end of the season. The players we're really excited to see in action are Jamal Custis and JUCO transfer Ravian Pierce. Both players are similarly sized (around 6-foot-4, 230 pounds), can push defenders around and have the leaping ability for jump balls in the end zone. Red zone efficiency has been a problem for Syracuse for awhile now. Having two big options like those players could change that up quite a bit.
5. Any hopes that the defense will be improved after allowing 38 points per game last year?
I mean, there's no chance they decline, right? We had a lot of players transfer out, but the team's also added five JUCOs and two grad transfers on the defensive side to help bolster a pretty young team. Former Notre Dame corner Devin Butler could start on one side, and Toledo transfer Jordan Martin could man the other.
Much was made of the offensive transition from an option to a spread last year, but the defense switched from a blitz-heavy approach to one completely based on coverage. Bringing in players from outside the old system will be beneficial toward progressing to a better version of the Tampa-2 in 2017. Still, this offense creates more opponent possessions as well. It's unlikely we're every allowing less than like 28-30 points per game under Babers.