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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Syracuse Orange

After blowing out CMU in Mt. Pleasant, the Orange will host the Chippewas on their home turf this upcoming season.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange had narrowly defeated FCS foe Villanova at home before heading into Mt. Pleasant last season. They blew out the Chippewas without Thomas Rawls and Titus Davis, and took a 2-0 record into the remainder of their schedule. The rest of the season didn't turn out so well for the Orange.

CMU would be Syracuse's largest win of the season, and the only one against a team with a winning record. The football program has been having some identity issues since head coach Doug Marrone left to coach the Buffalo Bills two seasons ago, resulting in the hurried hiring of Scott Schafer for the position.

The Orange are in a tight division with Florida State and Louisville at the top of the Atlantic, with middling stalwarts NC State, Boston College, and Clemson all vying for bowl spots during the season. Syracuse's only conference win came against fellow bottom-feeder Wake Forest. There have been a lot of PR snafus for the athletic department in recent months, what with the unretiring (but not really?) the famous number 44 that Jim Brown and other hall-of-fame running backs wore, and the departure (but not really?) of AD Dr. Daryl Gross, and HC Schafer will probably have to deal with hot seat rumors, as Syracuse was a bowl team two years ago.

On offense, the Orange return Terell Hunt at the quarterback position. In the 2014 match, Hunt had a field day in the game at Mt. Pleasant with 276 yards and three touchdowns. However, there are questions swirling around the skill positions, as two-thirds of last year's rushing yards have graduated, and their primary recievers are a true sophomore who is yet to be seen as a viable option in Steve Ishmael and special-teamer Alvin Cornelius. There is also the matter of whether or not Tim Lester's offense-- yes, the former Western Michigan QB and Bill Cubit disciple-- will mesh with his personnel. The Orange's main strength was in their offensive line, which held steady when healthy, allowing for running lanes and open looks in the passing game. They return six starters and 90 starts to the line this year, and if last season's performance was any indication, the Orange line should hold up just fine, barring injuries, as they were 49th in adjusted sack rate and 67th in adjusted line yards in 2014.

Defense is going to be a huge issue for the Orange this season. Starting defensive backs Durell Eskridge, Darius Kelley, Ritchy Desir, and Brandon Reddish are all gone, and not a lot is left to replace them. Julian Whigham and Tyler Morgan will most likely start on the corners, with relative newcomer Chauncey Scissum at safety. Coach Schafer will have to depend on a youth movement fomenting early in order for success; the line showed flashes of brilliance, as they ranked 6th in the nation for sack rates on passing downs and were explosive off the line. However, the defense as a whole gave up awful field position and a 65% opposing passing rate.

Special teams wasn't particularly stellar last season, ranking 105th in special team efficiency. They do, however, have some consistency. Punter Riley Dixon is back, as well as kicker Cole Murphy (13-16 for all FGA's.) Ervin Phillips and Brisly Estime are slated to return kicks and punts, respectively.

Here are some highlights from their recent spring game. (***WARNING: "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy is the musical track.***)