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Syracuse Football: Freshmen Finding Big Roles Early in Orange Season

Don't look now, but the changing of the guard at Syracuse may already be taking place...

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Looking around the recap from Syracuse's win over Central Michigan on Saturday, you may have noticed something strange:

There are an awful lot of (true) freshmen playing a factor early in this Orange season, no?

Take a glance at this week's play-calling breakdown, too. It's almost as if we're witnessing a changing of the guard for Syracuse. Names like Jarrod West, Prince-Tyson Gulley and even Ashton Broyld appear to be disappearing or fading into the background a bit. In their places, we're seeing the likes of Steve Ishmael, Jamal Custis and Erv Phillips making their presences known louder and louder each week. This is the future of Syracuse football. We knew that once the much-ballyhooed class of 2014 set foot on campus. But did we realize the future was now?

Of those true freshmen who have made a significant impact on 2014 already, who's impressed us the most thus far? And who's likely to get an even larger role as the year wears on?

Jared Smith: The freshmen that has impressed me the most is wide receiver Steve Ishmael. It is pretty impressive he has taken Jarrod West's starting spot and I am not going to mock the choice at all. Of course, we saw running back Ervin Phillips do a few very nice things, but it is going to be tough for him to break out with a crowded backfield like SU's. For the skill positions, it is a solid sign we've seen contributions this early from the first-year guys.

Sean Keeley: Erv Phillips impressed me even in the Villanova game with his speed on kick returns. So it wasn't as surprising to see him explode in the Central Michigan game knowing he could hold his own. Given how much we've heard about Steve Ishmael and Jamal Custis, that's what makes Phillips' rise as a RB surprising. We were under the impression that the core of backs we had held a pretty impenetrable depth chart. In a way it's great to see the Best Man Available strategy in work, but it's also concerning to see another freshman seemingly blow past other upperclassmen on the roster. Suppose we just have to look to the future, sooner than later. Not a bad thing.

If you're telling me it's going to be Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Erv Phillips as the core of our running game, I'm into that. I would like to see Ishmael fulfill the role that the coaches are clearly setting him up for. While Jarrod West still has seniority, Ishmael didn't jump him as a starter just for the hell of it. He clearly has potential. Let's see it.

John Cassillo: See, it's weird. I was VERY impressed by Erv Phillips in his extended carries against Central Michigan. But that was also in the second half of a game that was about to get out of hand, and there was no tape on Phillips coming in at all. He was a complete unknown to our fan base and the announcers too, so I can only assume there was close to zero preparation for him on CMU's part before the game. But he was still excellent, and for that, you have to give him a ton of credit for owning his role and adding a surprising dose of speed on those series of counters in the third.

Through two games, though, the man has to be Steve Ishmael. No, the numbers don't look overly gaudy, but he's already setting the stage to be this team's new top target, and will be an even bigger factor as the year progresses. TNIAAM's own Dan Lyons made a slight comparison between him and Amari Cooper last week, and while it may seem like a stretch now, it's not crazy to think of what could be either. He's fast, can can excel on the edge and looks like a superb option on those mid-range routes Syracuse hasn't utilized as much until now. Expect even more work for him against Maryland.


Who do you think is Syracuse's breakout freshman thus far?