ACC: Syracuse Orange

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April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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Well, this rule ought to make games more interesting.
Though Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt ended last season on a roll, coach Scott Shafer was reluctant to tab him the starter headed into spring.

He wanted Hunt to earn the job again.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTerrel Hunt got firm footing for the No. 1 job in 2014 with his performance in the Texas Bowl.
Mission accomplished.

Offensive coordinator George McDonald said in a phone interview that Hunt is the team's starter, not a huge shock considering the momentum gained toward the end of last season. Still, Shafer did open up the competition this spring to see what all his quarterbacks could do.

Hunt just happened to be ahead of everybody else, and he continued to distance himself as the spring wore on. Syracuse plays its spring game this Saturday in a much different spot than a year ago -- with no real questions at the position.

"He’s had a really good spring," McDonald said of Hunt. "He’s doing a lot of things he wasn’t able to do last spring. For him, the game that made him a lot more comfortable was the Minnesota game. He’s really built off that game. He’s playing at a different level this spring."

Hunt turned in an MVP performance against the Gophers in the Texas Bowl, throwing for 188 yards and running for 74 more and two touchdowns in the comeback victory. But he started turning a corner before that, with solid performances against Pitt and Boston College -- a victory that sealed bowl eligibility.

The confidence Hunt gained at the end of last year has been evident this spring.

"He’s a totally different player," McDonald said. "He started the season as the second-string quarterback and then he got better and better. He went through his ups and downs, and really the Pittsburgh game he played well, Boston College, he really played well and the Minnesota bowl game he stepped up his game in terms of his leadership and what he was doing on the field. [Quarterbacks] coach [Tim] Lester really challenged him to keep building off that game and that’s what he’s done all spring."

Now, the battle for the backup job will head into the fall. Mitch Kimble, A.J. Long and Austin Wilson are all in the competition. Highly touted Alin Edouard arrives in the summer, too.

"The future is bright at the quarterback spot," McDonald said. "They’re all able to do what we want them to do, it’s just a matter of feeling comfortable with what we’re trying to do, just being able to play up to their abilities without playing with fear.

"The competition will be really heavy. Terrel has done such a great job this spring, he’s really distanced himself so now the competition is who’s going to get that No. 2 spot."
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer recently told a local radio station that his goal for 2014 is to win eight or more games. Given the difficulty of their schedule, can the Orange get there? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich debate.

HD says: Not gonna happen.

It’s a perfectly reasonable goal.

After winning seven games last year, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is aiming for at least eight or more wins this fall – as he should.

If only there were eight wins on the schedule.

Syracuse showed promise last season, ending on a positive note with back-to-back victories over Boston College and Minnesota, and the Orange had an encouraging spring under Shafer and quarterback Terrel Hunt. It’s a program heading in the right direction, not one in disarray. The reality, though, is that Syracuse is stuck in the top-heavy Atlantic Division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville and has two tough nonconference games against Maryland and Notre Dame. That could very well be an 0-for-5 stretch. Last year, Syracuse lost to FSU and Clemson by a combined score of 108-17. The Orange aren't going to close that gap in one offseason.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt and Syracuse finished strong last season.
Syracuse’s best chances for wins this year are against Villanova, Central Michigan, Wake Forest, NC State, Pitt and Boston College. Duke, the defending Coastal Division champ, is no longer a pushover, and NC State should be significantly improved in the second season under Dave Doeren. Maryland is a wild card. The Terps are no longer in the ACC, so their return and reception at Syracuse will be interesting, but Maryland should actually be the better team this year. The Terps lose only four starters, the whole defensive line returns and they should be a much-improved offense if they can keep quarterback C.J. Brown and receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long healthy.

An eight-win season is certainly not out of reach for Cuse, especially having home-field advantage for some of the toughest games, including a Friday night date with Louisville on Oct. 3, followed by a home game against defending national champion Florida State. Maybe Louisville is getting too much credit for its recent success in spite of its enormous transition this offseason, but the Cardinals were more than just Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong. Louisville will be looking to make a statement in its first season in the ACC.

As a program, Syracuse will eventually get there. The Orange have been a successful football program before and can do it again, and Shafer understands how to do it. He spoke recently about staying true to the identity of the program, about recruiting tough, hard-nosed players who go to class and compete. And while they might not be four- or five-star recruits, they’re players the staff can develop into stars that the bigger schools missed out on. Syracuse can win eight games and occasionally pull off an upset against FSU or Clemson, just as NC State and Wake Forest have proven capable of in the past.

It’s just not going to happen in Year 2.

AA says: Don't count out the Orange.

Syracuse faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2014, making the task of getting to at least eight wins exceedingly difficult.

But not impossible.

First, let us take a look at the games I have penciled in as W's before the season even starts. Give Cuse at least five off the top -- Villanova, Central Michigan, Wake Forest, NC State and BC, based on results from a year ago and expectations for everyone headed into the fall. Syracuse went 3-0 against these Atlantic Division opponents in 2013.

That means Syracuse has to win three of its remaining seven games on the schedule to get to a minimum eight. There are four games I think could go either way:

1. vs. Maryland, Sept. 20. I give the early edge to Syracuse in this game. The Orange handled the Terps on the road a year ago and now get them at home. The big difference in this game could be the Maryland receiver duo of Diggs and Long, who did not play in their last meeting.

2. vs. Louisville, Oct. 3. The last time these teams played in the Carrier Dome back in 2012, the Orange ruined the Cardinals' perfect season with a dominant victory. The head coaches are different, yes, but Syracuse seems to get an extra bit of motivation when it has midweek games. This game is on a Friday night; the Orange are 5-1 in Friday games since 2011.

3. vs. Duke, Nov. 8. While I think the Blue Devils have the edge on paper, Syracuse will not be overmatched. If the uptempo offense progresses the way everybody expects, this game could end up being a shootout. That would make it anybody’s game.

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Will Syracuse win eight or more games this season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,378)

4. at Pitt, Nov. 22. As one Syracuse fan pointed out in the mailbag last week, I do have high expectations for the Panthers. But that does not mean Pitt is a slam dunk to win this game. These teams have split their last two meetings, contests that have been decided by a total of two points. I’d say this is the definition of "toss-up game."

As you can see, three of these four games are at home. If Syracuse can go 3-1 in these four, it can get to eight. I do not think Syracuse will have much of a shot to beat Notre Dame, Florida State or Clemson, the remaining three teams on the schedule.

One more point to remember: Syracuse exceeded expectations in both 2012 and 2013, winning more games than anybody predicted. Eight wins might seem like a lot for this year’s team, but Syracuse has made a recent habit of proving us all wrong.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Boston strong.

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April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.

ACC mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Lots of mail this week. Thanks to everybody who wrote in. Now to some questions ...

theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.

Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.

 




Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.

Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.

 




Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?

Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.

 




Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?

Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.

 




Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.

Adelson writes: Add it on the list!

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Thoughts with all those affected Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Q&A with Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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After a rocky start to the 2013 season, Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt wrapped up his first year as the starter with come-from-behind wins against Boston College and Minnesota. Now, he’s trying to carry that momentum into the spring, despite coach Scott Shafer’s reluctance to officially tab Hunt as the starter once again. We caught up with Hunt to see how spring football is going.

Q: With a year of playing time under your belt, how much better do you feel this spring than you did last season?

A: I feel a lot better. I was more confident going into it. I’m trying to take full command of the offense. I want everything to just work perfectly. It’s not going to be perfect, but you try.

Q: Coach Shafer hasn’t officially named you the starter, despite how you performed down the stretch last season. Has that had an effect on how you’ve approached this spring?

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt has been working on improving his passing mechanics this spring.
A: It definitely doesn’t hurt me. That’s his way of letting me know that nothing is ever given. You have to earn everything. Even if you had a great season, an OK season, whatever it was last year, you still have to come in and fight. You just have to be ready to come in and compete and not be laid back. I actually like that he said that.

Q: Regardless of your spot on the depth chart, it seems like you’ve really tried to take on a leadership role this spring. Was that a priority for you?

A: Yes, of course. My whole thing was working on little tweaks in my game, getting my elbow up on long balls or working on my mechanics. But one of my major things was becoming a leader like Ryan (Nassib) used to be, being that guy that everybody looks to, being more vocal, having everybody trust you. Whatever you say, they’ll put their heart out on the field to do. So I’ve worked on being more vocal and being that leader where young guys can come to me. It didn’t hit me until after the season, and I was like, wow, I’m the older guy in the room and they’re going to be asking me questions. And I just want to be able to give back to them what I received when I was younger.

Q: How much did the way last season ended help your confidence?

A: It definitely boosted it. It gave me a chance to actually have a comfort level, to know how the game is, how fast it is, how coaches get, how crazy it gets when you’re down and how crazy it gets when you’re up, and how you’ve got to be the same player at all times. It helped how it ended because we came up successful. It wasn’t the best season, but our first year in the ACC, people kind of counted us out and we made something happen. So that means a lot.

Q: You had a lot of success as a runner last season, but in the passing game, you struggled at times. What changes have you been working on in terms of mechanics or knowledge of the playbook to improve as a passer this year?

A: Just staying in the pocket longer, learning how to bend my knees when I throw, keeping my elbow up, having my footwork match with the route, where everything is on time and there’s no second-guessing myself. Just being able to do all that, everything else will come along the way. If I’m able to get my footwork right and get my elbow up, I’ll have more zip on the ball and I’ll be throwing the ball before the wide receiver gets out of his break, so a defense won’t be able to jump on it. Little things like that. A lot of guys on the team say I’ve been doing it better, staying in the pocket more, and that’s going to help in the long run. When somebody opens up at the last second, and I’m still in the pocket and can make a play.

Q: You were learning on the fly a bit last season, but your receiving corps was awfully young, too. How has that group improved this spring?

A: I would be afraid to be in that receiving room, there’s so much talent in there. We were young last year, and it was a learning process. Now that we all know the pace of the game, we all know what coach is looking for, everybody’s competing, and it’s crazy. It’s every man for himself within that team aspect. They let each other know, ‘I’m coming for your spot.’ One time, Ashton (Broyld) and Quinta Funderburk were going at it. He said, ‘I’m coming for your spot,’, and he’s like, ‘You’re not getting it.’ It’s little things like that, coaches love that because you’re never comfortable. The young guys are pushing me and I’m never comfortable. I’m making sure I’m doing a little extra, doing more than they’re doing. You just compete, and that’s all that really is.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsHunt is focused on being patient in the pocket before running with the ball.
Q: You mentioned younger guys gunning for bigger jobs, and freshman quarterback A.J. Long didn’t hide the fact that he wanted your job, which led to a little friction. What’s your relationship like with him now, and how has he progressed this spring?

A: He’s a good quarterback. He came in a little hot-headed, but we all do. I love how he’s determined. He has the drive. He’s settled down. He understands his spot, he understands what he has to do and all the work you have to put in. I guess he didn’t know when he first got here because it’s tough. College football isn’t easy. We all had to learn that. I love his drive. He’s a fast quarterback when he gets out of the pocket. He reminds me of me when I first got here. As long as he keeps working, he’s going to be successful. I’m really proud of him, the way he came in, took on the offense, understanding the offense. I’m just proud of where we’re going right now.

Q: Shafer and others have talked about wanting to play much faster this season. What kind of an impact does upping the tempo have on you and your game?

A: It’s good. It means that I’ve got to get in better shape -- I’m not in bad shape, but you’ve got to be able to get around after a 20-yard run and getting tackled, you need to be able to walk around, tell everybody what they need to do, read the defense and take a breath. We’re going way faster than we were last year. There’s less communication between me and the wide receiver. Everybody is doing their job. The coaches are signaling into them now so they don’t have to look at me. As soon as I get the player, I tell the O line, I look at the wide receivers and we’re ready. I don’t have to talk to everybody. There’s less communication and more football.

Q: Is that even something you would’ve been capable of doing last year, or is it a facet to the game plan that has come with your maturity and the growth of the guys around you?

A: Definitely. Last year we were all young. The coaches were young themselves -- not young, but Coach [George] McDonald, this was his first offensive coordinator job. So going into it, you’re really excited and you want to do a whole bunch of things, but you want to make sure your players master the things you do. So we figured, shorten the playbook and master those plays and everything will work out.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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What a year for UConn hoops.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
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First prediction I've gotten right all tourney.

ACC's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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I'll go with UConn tonight. You?

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

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April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
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Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...

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