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Syracuse football 2017 opponent preview: Central Connecticut State Blue Devils

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LET’S START THESE NOW.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Now that spring practice is over, we can start talking about actual Syracuse football opponents. For the next 12 weeks, we’ll be diving into each of the 12 (very difficult) teams SU faces and telling you all (or most of what) you’ll need to know about them. Despite the challenges of the schedule, we’re going to be positive wherever possible. Today’s team:

Central Connecticut State Blue Devils

School: Central Connecticut State University

Mascot: Blue Devils

#BRAND Slogan: N/A (I actually searched for quite awhile to no avail)

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Not THOSE Blue Devils.” “Closer to NYC Than UConn.”

Recommended Blog: CCSUFans

Conference: Northeast Conference

Coach: Pete Rossamando, 4th year. Pete played football at Boston University while the Terriers still had a team in the early 1990s, then went right into coaching. He’s made his way around the Northeast circuit at New Haven (twice), Northeastern, SUNY-Cortland and Albany before arriving at CCSU. He was actually the head coach at New Haven before this gig. He went 42-13 with the Chargers, including two trips to the DII playoffs.

2016 Record: (2-9) (1-5)

Recapping Last Season: CCSU got blown out most weeks, and their two wins were a close won over fellow NEC cellar-dweller Sacred Heart and DII Bowie State. The Blue Devils were 80th in total offense in all of FCS, and 75th in total defense (not a great combo). Where they truly struggled most, however, was with regard to running the ball (115th in FCS) and stopping the pass (96th). Hey, those struggles should sound sort of familiar to us!

Despite the team-wide and offense-specific struggles, quarterback Jacob Dolegala actually had a pretty decent season. The sophomore completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 2,934 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Both were big improvements from the numbers he put up in a part-time role as a freshman, and you could see him potentially progressing even more this fall. Just about every skill position player will be back, which helps a lot.

Defensively, junior linebacker Randall Laguerre (not related to Hernz, it appears) was a one-man wrecking crew, tallying 116 tackles (including 5.5 for loss). With the struggles against the pass, the linebacker corps and safeties got a ton of action -- though not with much success. They picked off just seven passes all year, though also returned three of those for touchdowns.

2017 Season Outlook:

Unlikely to go overwhelmingly better, which would probably put Rossamando on the chopping block (he’s just 9-24 at CCSU thus far). In addition to the NEC slate, the Blue Devils face obviously face Syracuse, then Fordham and Youngstown State. Penn’s on the non-conference schedule too. This is really not the type of season this program needs if it wants to right the ship.

That said, this really is a team full of returning talent, which should help with the tougher schedule. Most of last year’s offensive line were underclassmen, and Dolegala is back at quarterback. The Blue Devils return their top four receivers, and eight of the top nine overall. While Joey Fields “only” caught 46 passes, he amassed over 700 yards and pulled in six touchdowns as well. CCSU’s run game will look to Cameron Nash for improvement if this team’s gong to run the ball better than it did last year.

There’s also plenty of returning talent on defense, though they do lose a few seniors like Carlton Nash, Keir Minor and Asia Bolling. Each was an elder statesman in his respective position group, which hurts a bit. But the depth of experience elsewhere should help get past those losses somewhat. They still return six of their top nine tacklers, and most of the team’s paltry 17 sacks. Interceptions leader Tymir Hinton’s also back. They’ll bring an inexperienced punter/kicker into the Dome, however, since Ed Groth graduated.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Game Date: Friday, September 1

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 99 percent

Very Early Outlook:

CCSU has experience going for it, but not much else when they come to the Carrier Dome at the start of Labor Day weekend. In last year’s FCS opener, Syracuse was still learning how to function within the offense, and the defense had yet to really get its bearings in the Tampa-2 (it never really did all season). With a year under their belts in Dino Babers’s system, the Orange should make short work of the Blue Devils. Expect some high-flying action and some impressive defensive improvement. SU wins going away.