In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.
Dino Babers (first year at Syracuse)
Record last year:
4-8 (2-6 ACC)
When do they play UNC?
Where are they projected?
Sixth in Atlantic Division
How do they play?
Babers’ play style differs drastically from the groundwork former coach Scott Shafer left behind, so there will need to be some adjustments as the Orange learns new systems on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Syracuse will try an up-tempo, vertical spread style led by dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey. This comes a year after the Orange ran an air raid style of offense with little success, ranking 13th in the ACC in yards per game and 11th in points per game.
Defensively, Babers brings a Tampa 2 scheme, which is a dramatic shift from Shafer’s attacking, blitzing style.
Expect growing pains on both sides of the ball as Babers runs new systems without the players suited for his style.
Who stands out?
In his first season with the Orange in 2015, Dungey totaled 16 touchdowns and set the Syracuse first-year record for passing yards in only seven starts. Back for his sophomore campaign, the Tualatin, Oregon native holds the key to Babers’ new offense.
Dungey should improve as he gains experience and learns the new tempo offense that Babers implements. If he stays healthy and takes control of the offense, Dungey could become a breakout star in the ACC.
What is their biggest weakness?
The Orange defense ranked last in the ACC in 2015 in total defense (438.5 yards per game) and second-to-last in scoring defense (31.0 points per game). While Babers’ hire might bring improvements down the road, don’t expect that to manifest itself this season.
Babers’ Tampa 2 system will take time to master, and progress will likely be handicapped by a roster of players recruited to play the more aggressive, blitzing style of defense that Shafer brought to Syracuse.
The combination of a new system, mismatched personnel and an up-tempo offense on the other side could leave the defense exposed, especially early in the season.
Why could they win the ACC?
Because the Orange are in the ACC Atlantic — with championship contenders Clemson and Florida State — some might say that hell will freeze over before Syracuse threatens the ACC crown. But western New York is known for its harsh winters and sub-zero temperatures, so anything is possible.
While an ACC title might not be in the cards, the Orange could surprise if Dungey continues to improve. The offense, which returns 93.4 percent of its total yards production from 2015, will score points under Babers’ up-tempo style. And with a few timely stops, Syracuse could threaten opponents like N.C. State and Connecticut.
Babers’ squad will need to pull off a few upsets to win six games and earn a bowl spot, but there are winnable games on the schedule — most notably against Wake Forest and Boston College. If all falls right, the Orange could earn a bowl game in December and build momentum for next season.
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