The Syracuse Orange football season begins in 142 days. That seems like a long time, and it is. But given the excitement around the fan base for the start of the Dino Babers era, why not get going a little early on previews? We start with our opponents, which are just as difficult as ever. Each week, we'll take a look at a team on Syracuse's 2016 schedule. Today, we start with the first:
School: Colgate University
#BRAND Slogan: "For God and Truth"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Not the toothpaste." "Wake up with a smile."
Recommended Blog: Closest thing you're going to find (or I've found) is @ColgateFootball, which is not run by Colgate.
Conference: Patriot League
Coach: Dan Hunt, third year. Long-time 'Gate assistant Hunt took over the program in 2014, and over the course of two years, he's turned the Raiders into a pretty legitimate FCS team. After going 5-7 in year one, he led the team to a 9-5 record and Patriot League title in year two. They lost in the FCS quarterfinals to Sam Houston State and ended up ranked 13th overall. So yeah, Rhode Island, this team is not.
2015 Record: (9-5) (6-0)
Recapping Last Season:
After losing their first three games (including two very bad defeats to Navy and New Hampshire, respectively), the Raiders rebounded in a big way. While far from a rampage through the Patriot League, they still beat every team in front of them en route to their first conference title since 2012. The Raiders also managed to win a playoff game (two, actually) for the first time since a 2003 trip to the FCS Championship Game. Following a payback win over typical powerhouse New Hampshire, and another victory over James Madison, Colgate was run over by Sam Houston State.
Due to some early blowouts, Colgate was actually out-scored by its opponents. Yet given the slow start, you have to commend the rebound. The team scored over 28 points per game after the first two losses. Six different opponents were held to 21 points or less.
The team's rushing attack was among the top 25 best in the FCS, with four runners contributing to the majority of their 3,066 yards on the year. Very mobile quarterback Jake Melville led the way with a whopping 1,073 yards on his own. James Holland and Demetrius Russell both chipped in over 600 yards as well. Melville also moved the ball well through the air, tacking on over 2,500 yards to go with 11 passing touchdowns. He had 11 on the ground as well.
Colgate's quality pass-rush kept teams on their heels all season too. The Raiders' 36 sacks on the year were among the top-15 totals in FCS, with three players grabbing 7.5 or more. D-linemen Pat Afriyie led that group with 9.5 on his own. The speed-rushing then-sophomore also led the team in tackles-for-loss, with 17.5. Colgate's 76 tackles for loss were also among the FCS's 25 best totals.
2016 Season Outlook:
Possibly even better than last year's breakout year, to be honest. Beyond the first few games against Syracuse, Yale and Richmond, it looks like another manageable slate for 'Gate that could lead to a second straight FCS Playoff berth. Offensively, a pretty sizeable portion of last year's starters are back, including all but one of the major skill position contributors (running back Demetrius Russell is the lone departure). Melville only stands to improve and could have an outside shot at the Walter Payton award. The offensive line is experienced and much of that comes back as well.
Over on defense, a whole lot of folks return. Of the team's top contributors, just Cameron Buttermore and Ty McCollum are gone from the Raiders. That means tons of tackles, sacks and interceptions only stand to get better with another year under their belts. The obvious standout would be the aforementioned Afriyie, whose gaudy stat sheet will be expected this year, but still very hard to stop on the edge. Playing with more leads as the offense jumps out to bigger early leads could really help unleash this group on overwhelmed opponents.
The year will rise and fall on how the non-conference schedule goes. Should they pull an upset or two, this team could find themselves ranked in the top-5 or -10 by simply running through the rest of the manageable Patriot League slate. Hunt's knowledge of this program going in was a huge advantage and he obviously has it trending in the right direction in a short time. They took home a top-30 FCS recruiting class and the conference's top haul this offseason.
Syracuse Game Date: September 2, once again a Friday night. Not bad for some, though a difficult sell for those ticket holders outside of the Syracuse area, I'm sure.
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 95 percent
Very Early Outlook:
When we went ahead and scheduled our long lost rival, it's doubtful Syracuse figured we'd see a rising Colgate program on the other sideline. Yet, that's what comes to the Carrier Dome in early September for a battle of hoodoo and buried history. The Raiders haven't defeated their Central New York neighbors since 1950. This probably isn't the year Syracuse lets 'Gate end that streak, but the squads could certainly bring more intrigue to the proceedings than they have in awhile. There's no predicting a monumental upset, but a very good Raiders team could come out firing for a quarter or so. Syracuse will have a lot of "new" at its disposal, and that "new" could bring more speed than anything the Raiders are used to. Give me an Orange win, even if the first quarter stresses us all out.