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Syracuse Spring Football Preview: Big Questions for Offensive Skill Positions

With spring practices starting next week, it's time to look at what to expect at the offensive skill positions for Syracuse.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Is Terrel Hunt the starting quarterback?

My prediction yes. This is, essentially, the biggest question for the entire Syracuse offseason. If Hunt isn't the starter, it's probably a good sign because it would mean one of the freshmen blew away the competition and clearly deserves the job. By the end of last season, Hunt emerged as a bona fide dual-threat quarterback. Although he has to cut down on his mistakes and improve his consistency at making intermediate throws, the junior passer is definitely the frontrunner.

Last year, Hunt went 7-4 as a starter, including winning the MVP award in Syracuse's 21-17 Texas Bowl victory. On the season, he had 1,638 passing yards on a 61.2 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Everything I've heard from the SU coaching staff points to Hunt keeping his starting gig in 2014. One quote, in particular, came from offensive coordinator George McDonald in a recent SI article.

"We're going to open it up on offense and go full-bore fast," McDonald said. "Like an Oregon, Texas A&M style of offense."

Even though both incoming freshmen A.J. Long and Alin Edouard do have some scrambling ability, this shift in scheme bodes well for Hunt. What's important to note about last year is that when Syracuse absolutely needed to win, the playcalling had more of an emphasis on Hunt's scrambling ability. In Syracuse's win over Boston College to get bowl-eligible, he ran a season-high 17 times. In the Texas Bowl, T-Hunt had 15 rushes, his second highest on the season. And when the Orange really had to have a big play in the bowl game, the call was to let Hunt make a play on his own. What also bodes well for him is that almost the entire offense around him is coming back. He knows the playbook and the receivers know what to expect out of him.

The continued development of Hunt will be the biggest factor in shaping the Syracuse 2014 season. He had four starts last year with under 100 passing yards and SU went 1-3 in those games. Ultimately, the team will go either as high or as low as Hunt takes it. With a solid season at QB, the sky's the limit.

How much is the Syracuse run game affected by the loss of Jerome Smith?

But the real question is, does this mean the hay is finally in the barn?

Compared to quarterback, there's much less intrigue in the running back position. With Prince-Tyson Gulley, George Morris and Devante McFarlane coming back, the Orange is in good hands. That doesn't even include Hunt, who ran for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. In fact, all of those players, aside from Morris, averaged a better yards per carry total than Smith. Last year, Smith only accounted for about 36 percent of the team's rushing yards.

I expect Morris to fill in for a lot of the north-south running that Smith was responsible for. Gulley and McFarlane are both around 190 pounds so their skill sets are better utilized for outside-the-tackles carries. Possibly the biggest loss would be Smith's role as a short yardage back. A lot of his value came at the goal line, so the coaching staff will have to determine who gets that role in Smith's absence.

How much better will the receiving corps be?

The Syracuse receivers will go from a weakness in 2013 to a strength in 2014. The Orange bring back almost the entire group of players and add a few highly touted recruits. The difficulty last season was replacing the production of Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon. Jarrod West was tasked with filling in at the No. 1 spot, but couldn't quite do it. He only had 397 receiving yards and missed a few games. Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime emerged later in the season, finally giving the team some playmakers and the ability to separate from defenders to get open. It will be important to watch how they develop in the offseason. One area the duo will have to improve upon is in the red zone. Broyld, the leading receiving, didn't have a single touchdown. Estime, who is only 5-foot-9, had one.

Keep an eye out for junior Alvin Cornelius. He came on in the last month as a deep play threat, but he simply may get buried in the depth chart.

The biggest improvement in this area will simply be the improvement at the quarterback position. It was very difficult going from an NFL-caliber passer in Ryan Nassib to an unproven commodity in Drew Allen and then Hunt. This year, that shouldn't be a question.

Does SU get more production out of the tight end position this season?

The simple answer is yes, but don't expect a whole lot. Last season wasn't the heyday of Syracuse tight end play by any measure. After losing Nick Provo to graduation, the starting job went to our favorite Lord, one Beckett Wales. The senior only had 78 receiving yards in a season that combined ineffectiveness and a season-ending injury.

In his loss, Josh Parris took over. You probably remember his game-winning touchdown against Boston College, but you probably don't remember that he only had six receptions in the 11 other games. Although Parris should get a bigger role, don't expect him to become a go-to guy. With the improvement at wide receiver and the use of the up-tempo spread offense, it's hard to project seeing the tight end position being utilized very much in 2014.

What freshman will make an impact?

Watch out for Adly Enoicy.

Not only because he's the only receiver who was rated as a four-star recruit, but because he is one of the tallest. At about 6-foot-5, Enoicy will be a big target. On National Signing Day, Scott Shafer said he wanted players who would be tough to guard 1-on-1. In Enoicy's highlight video, you can see that he's able to go up in the air and make a play. That ability to win jump ball scenarios could make Hunt's life a lot easier. With the lack of red zone passing threats mentioned above combined with the loss of Smith for goal line carries, Enoicy could snatch a few TDs.