Though we’re in the middle of our usual round of both serious and non-serious predictions (and we’ll follow those up other stories next week), none of those posts necessarily answer all of the basic questions Troy Q. Casual Fan wants to know about the 2019 Syracuse Orange.
So consider this our shot at addressing that need. And for the other, contract-honoring diehards that have been asking themselves all five of these questions since January, consider it an alternative perspective to what you’ve been telling yourself all year.
1. Who is Syracuse’s most important player on offense this season?
Dino Babers’s offensive system may be run-focused, but it ultimately relies on the production (and at times, experience) of the quarterback. While Tommy DeVito’s yet to start a game for Syracuse, his extended time under center last year in relief of Eric Dungey should help out quite a bit there.
And while there will certainly be some growing pains given DeVito’s relative youth compared to Dungey, there’s a chance that this year’s offense is more efficient AND more big-play focused with Tommy at the helm. He has a big arm and is potentially a more accurate passer. Add in the greater downfield capabilities that should afford this offense, and any improvement on last year’s incredible porduction starts with him.
2. Who is Syracuse’s most important player on defense this season?
Can we opt for plural PLAYERS here? Because they’re both better because of one another. Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman combined for 20 sacks last year and are the two-headed monster that guides the Orange pass-rush. That record-setting group was a critical part of SU’s defensive resurgence and overall success in 2018. For 2019, they’ll be required to step up once again — especially as the team is dealing with complete turnover at the linebacker position.
Sneakily, the defensive front was also a big part of why the secondary was able to both improve and take some big risks. So the two defensive ends are incredibly important, even beyond just getting to the quarterback.
3. What should be the biggest change between last year and this year for the Orange?
We already covered the obvious one with DeVito taking over for Dungey at quarterback. So opting for something a little less player-specific: Operating with a target on their backs.
Expectations have clearly risen for Syracuse now, both among SU fans and national media. We’re big fans of the fawning praise, of course, but that comes with increased attention and scrutiny for the players as well. Last year, the Orange had the benefit of surprising teams and flying a little under the radar. Now, every key player has been intensely studied by every opponent. That’s not a bad thing. It just ramps up the pressure and preparedness of foes a bit.
4. What is the most important game on SU’s schedule, and why?
A no-brainer: It’s Clemson. It’s the least likely win on the slate, sure. But that’s been the case for the last two years as well and Syracuse has still managed to play the Tigers close, picking them off at the Dome in 2017.
If ‘Cuse can beat Clemson for the second time in three years, then all bets are off on what this team can accomplish in 2019. It would give them the inside track at winning the ACC Atlantic Division, the biggest win in program history and a national audience to take it all in. A Syracuse team that beat Clemson in week three would potentially receive first place votes in the polls immediately afterward and look like a national title contender until picking up a loss somewhere on the schedule.
5. Predicted W-L record, and where are we going bowling?
We’ll get into this a bit more next week, but I’m believing the hype a bit and think this squad can finish 9-3. Even chalking up Clemson to a loss, that still leaves enough wiggle room for two losses against BC/Pitt/Wake/Duke/NC State/FSU. A team truly worthy of a top-25 ranking can probably manage 4-2 there. So sign me up for nine wins and the potential for a second straight 10-3 mark in the bowl game.
Speaking of which, that destination is greatly dependent on what happens on the Coastal side, and with Notre Dame. A 9- or 10-win Coastal winner that’s higher up in the College Football Playoff rankings would eliminate them from the Orange Bowl. So would a Notre Dame team that’s ranked higher and within a win of Syracuse.
It pains me, but ‘Cuse probably falls short of the Orange Bowl, and winds up heading to the Pinstripe to face Nebraska. Still a fantastic season, mind you.
What are your answers to the questions above, though?