As you already know, the Syracuse Orange football team faces a bunch of difficult opponents this fall (including five that receive votes in the first preseason AP Rankings). Some of those teams feature better individual players than others, however. So who might the best/most dangerous/scariest matchups be for Syracuse as we get ready for the season to kick off?
1. Jalen Ramsey, CB/Florida State
When a player staunchly believes they're the best in the country (at any position), that's a pretty good place to start. Even as a junior, Jalen Ramsey is (at the very least) one of the country's best defensive backs, and the leader of a Florida State defense looking for a reset after taking a step back last season. They'll need to do so without some stalwarts up front (Mario Edwards, in particular), so the onus will fall to the secondary -- Ramsey, in particular. The aggressive corner is the type of player SU dreams of in the secondary: makes big plays but stresses quality coverage (two picks, 12 pass break-ups), regularly deployed on blitz packages (9.5 TFLs) and a sure tackler overall (80 last season). He'll be a nightmare to deal with, even if the Orange passing game has vastly improved.
2. Leonard Fournette, RB/LSU
As Bill Connelly and others have mentioned, the LSU passing game is one enormous question mark. But that may not matter with a running back like Fournette available to carry the load. Taking the field as a true freshman in 2014, he managed over 1000 yards and 10 scores from scrimmage, plus a kick return TD to boot. Fournette's elusive speed and imposing size (6'1", 230 pounds) make him an incredibly difficult player to take down -- especially in space. While it's not ideal for the Tigers in some respects, their best gameplan vs. Syracuse might just be to hand it to their star back and let him roll on through an already banged-up Orange line. They'll be hard-pressed to stop him, in particular if he can find his way to the outside.
3. Deshaun Watson, QB/Clemson
Syracuse sort of hanging with Clemson last season was a positive in many ways... until you remember that Watson failed to suit up for the largely defensive contest at all. The speedy QB accounted for over 1,600 total yards and 19 scores (14 passing, five rushing) in just eight games in 2014. Now back healthy and with a full compliment of All-ACC receivers at his disposal this fall, you can only imagine what he'll be able to accomplish utilizing a year to get acclimated to the college game. The fact that the Tigers face the Orange on the Carrier Dome turf should not be overlooked either. SU's struggled against mobile QBs anywhere, which should bring extra worry vs. Watson too.
4. James Conner, RB/Pittsburgh
Conner was minimally utilized against Syracuse last season, and in his time on the field a year ago, he was sort of kept in check (11 carries for 38 yards and one TD). But that was with a veteran (though battered) front-seven too. Trotting a much younger group out there this fall, the Orange will be hard-pressed to find as much success against the reigning ACC Player of the Year. Similar to Fournette, Conner can use his imposing size (an even bigger 6'2" and 250 pounds) to bludgeon SU all afternoon if Pitt chooses. Let's hope that do not choose that option.
5. Tyler Boyd, WR/Pittsburgh
Unfortunately, if Pitt's running game is slowed, they'll have Tyler Boyd available to throw to instead. A dangerous return man, occasional rusher and obviously one of the conference's best wideouts, Boyd is frightening in open space and can motor past most veteran defenders (never mind the young ones SU is trotting out there against him). You might recall last season, when he pulled in seven passes for 126 yards and a score. If the Orange allow the speedy Boyd to be open anywhere on the field (and they sure did last year), it's going to spell a whole lot of trouble when these teams meet.
6. Quin Blanding, FS/Virginia
Virginia's offense is not all that imposing, but the defense could find a way to give the Orange fits, and that starts with Blanding. Averaging over 10 tackles per game, plus three picks on the season last year, the sophomore makes a living on the Hoos' back line. And given the fact that he's so young, he's only going to get better in 2015, and will make it incredibly hard to beat him (or UVA) over the top. Granted, he won't be as involved in the short passing game, which we might see more of from SU. But getting into that end zone by air or the ground still likely tasks you with getting past the 6'4", 215-pound Blanding. Expect both teams to employ interesting game plans with regard to the dangerous safety.
7. Jacoby Brissett, QB/NC State
In some ways, Brissett had a pretty tame performance against the Orange in 2014, passing for less than 200 yards and running for less than 20. That said, State still won, he still completed over 62 percent of 32 passes, threw for a TD and avoided turnovers. No, it wasn't his best game. But if "not your best" on the road still gives you some pretty solid numbers, that should mean a production uptick the following season at home. Our own Brian Tahmosh proclaims Brissett is very underrated, and he's probably right. In a power conference, a 23:5 TD-to-INT ratio can't lie.
8. Mike Williams, WR/Clemson
Williams might not be the next Sammy Watkins or DeAndre Hopkins, but he doesn't really have to be. As he did last year with two different QBs, the big (6'4", 210 pounds) target simply needs to get himself in position to catch the football. Against a smaller Syracuse secondary that is admittedly very green, Williams could put together a very special afternoon for himself. Remember: lesser receivers have done plenty to the Orange up at the Carrier Dome. They will have their hands very full while trying to match up with Williams (as well as Artavis Scott and the rest of CU's receivers).
9. Dalvin Cook, RB/Florida State
Cook was officially found not guilty of battery in court yesterday, which likely means he'll see the field for the Seminoles when they face Syracuse on Halloween. That's... not a great sign for the Orange, and makes stopping the FSU run game a much taller order now with both Cook and Mario Pender ready to attack the aforementioned, young and depth-deficient SU line. Cook may not have the size that the previous running backs on this list can boast, but he gets by on elite-level speed and that should still do plenty of damage. He's also a greater threat catching passes out of the backfield -- something that the Orange have been spotty defending effectively.
10. Everett Golson, QB/Florida State
This is not to claim Golson is one of the 10 best players the Orange face this fall. To be honest, I don't believe he qualifies there. However, what Golson can do to Syracuse IS a known commodity, turnovers aside. His 362 passing yards and four TDs -- plus 25 straight completions -- should all prove that. And now, it can be argued he has better, faster athletes to throw to as well (and again, will be facing a Syracuse defense that is far greener than last year's). Even if Golson fails to really get on track for the length of the season, the October date with SU will give him a big opportunity to prove himself... and a chance to give the Orange secondary nightmares yet again.
Plenty of other players could also be considered above. So who do you think they are? Any and all names are acceptable. (yes, even players on Rhode Island, if that's the way you're leaning)