Spring practice is over with, which opens the floodgates to start talking about the Syracuse Orange’s actual football opponents for fall 2018. Maybe the rest of you aren’t as excited about this fact in April. But... I certainly am, so we’re doing it.
SU faces another challenging schedule, so this is not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:
School: Wagner College
#BRAND Slogan: “Be Part of the City”
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “Not just a person named Wagner” or “No, really, Staten Island is a borough”
Recommended Blog: Best bet is SILive.com.
Conference: Northeast Conference (NEC)
Coach: Jason Houghtaling, 4th year. Houghtaling enters his fourth season with an 11-22 record overall (going 9-11 in the NEC). The New York state native first arrived at Wagner in 2006 as a running backs coach, before switching to offensive line a year later. He eventually took over as offensive coordinator and helped lead the Seahawks to a conference title in 2012. After a year at Cornell, he came back to Wagner and won another league championship in 2014. He’s been the head coach ever since. He’s a Binghamton alum (and has a grad degree from Wagner as well).
2017 Record: (4-7) (2-4)
Recapping Last Season: Wagner kicked off the season with a 37-7 win over D-II St. Anselm, then dropped the next three games including a 49-14 loss at the hands of Syracuse’s 2018 week one opponent Western Michigan. A win over Lehigh briefly stopped the bleeding, then they lost another three in a row. The Seahawks won two of three to end the year to four wins and also avoid the NEC cellar.
Despite having a coach focused on offense, the team struggled on that side of the ball last season. Wagner scored just 21.3 points per game, and threw for fewer than 1,800 yards. Then-junior quarterback Luke Massei completed 58.4 percent of his throws for 1,371 yards and seven touchdowns (versus eight interceptions). The Seahawks had five different players catch 19 or more passes, but none had more than 33 -- D’Erren Wilson, who had 392 yards and two scores as well. The run game was a little more capable, however. Ryan Fulse had 1,306 rushing yards (averaged six per carry) and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, Wagner allowed 27.6 points per game, but didn’t necessarily get run over while doing it. The Seahawks forced 24 turnovers (not bad), and generated a significant pass rush, with 34 sacks. Linebacker Quintin Hampton was the star of the defense, notching 82 tackles while collecting seven sacks and 12 total tackles for loss. Fellow LB Cameron Gill led the team with 11 sacks. Five other players had at least three sacks apiece.
2018 Season Outlook:
Things could look pretty positive for Wagner given who’s back. The offense returns its leading rusher and passer, and the offensive line actually has quite a bit of veteran talent as well. Three of the top five pass-catchers also return, including Wilson, who also missed two games last year. Massei, who also missed a game last year, should improve as a senior. And if he can’t, sophomore Donald Glenn is really the only other QB with experience.
The Seahawks return all three linebackers, who were the top tacklers on the team in 2017 — something that on its own could put them among the top teams in the NEC standings. Along with those players, Santoni Graham is also back to provide additional linebacker depth. Wagner’s two best defensive backs — Sterling Lowry and Tyamonee Johnson -- return as well. Lowry’s actually a Syracuse product himself, having attended Nottingham High School.
Wagner has a tough schedule ahead this fall, with seven road games, including four of the first six contests and the final two as well. They’ll face two of the NEC’s top three teams from last year -- Central Connecticut State and Bryant — away from home. Road dates against Syracuse and Montana State obviously won’t help matters either.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 8
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 98 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Even if Wagner ends up being one of the NEC’s top teams, that’s still very unlikely to close the talent gap between these two programs (see last year’s game against NEC champ CCSU). Syracuse has walked through these FCS opponents since Dino Babers took over, and I’d expect the same against the Seahawks, especially with a week to shake the rust off beforehand. SU should be able to put up 40-50 points without much trouble here.