Are you ready for some football? Now that the Freshmen have been officially oriented and classes are in session, it is time for the Wildcats football team to travel due north to open their season in the Carrier Dome. It will be the fourth meeting of the two schools -- who were long time basketball rivals in the Big East -- on the gridiron, and 'Cuse holds the advantage 2-1.
While most Villanova fans know a thing or two about Jim Boeheim's program, the Orange football team is just a tad less familiar. To help us out, we lined up John Cassillo of SB Nation's excessively-named Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, to answer the important questions about the Wildcats' opening day opponent. You can find all of his responses below, and you can see our answers to his questions over on their site.
Syracuse has some really interesting football history and some all-time great players under its belt. Where would you rank the Orange among programs all-time?
It's tough, because I want to buy into SU being the 15th-winningest program of all-time, owners of the 1959 National Championship, home of the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner, and a five-time conference champ (all of which is true). And I want to believe that my alma mater's past success means we're in for more in the future. But the landscape has changed quite a bit in the last 25 years, and at this juncture, Syracuse is much closer to a very large, muddled middle-of-the-pack in college football than we are to a national title. That's not a bad thing. It's just realistic. All-time, the Orange are probably top-40ish. Scout.com says we're 44th, appropriately. So yeah, let's go with that.
Terrel Hunt seems like a very talented athlete, what are your expectations for him this season? What will you be looking for him to do well on Friday?
Offensive coordinator George McDonald has made it a point to simplify and speed up the offense this year, and as we saw in Syracuse's final two games last year, that strategy could pay huge dividends. While Hunt is obviously a versatile passer and rusher, the key to his success likely lies in the health of the offensive line and the growth of SU's receivers. As long as last year's front stays as healthy as they did last year (already sort-of in question) and the wideouts take a step forward, Hunt could see a big uptick in production this fall.
Villanova fans are still really familiar with Syracuse Basketball, but that isn't necessarily the case on the gridiron. Who or what should Villanova fans be most afraid of when it comes to the Orange?
Hunt's an easy call here, so I'll avoid (and because I just talked about him above). Villanova fans should be very concerned with the Syracuse pass-rush. Perhaps you've heard we blitz a lot? Well, we do. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy that typically yields great results against opponents not named FSU or Clemson (obligatory self-troll: or Northwestern or Georgia Tech). So yeah, our front-seven is coming after John Robertson from the first snap, and they're not going to stop. So keep an eye out for that. They're also good at stopping the run, though, so don't bank on that being a perfect alternate strategy...
When Syracuse fans saw Villanova on the football schedule for this season, what was the general reaction?
Admittedly, some concern. Over the past decade or so (at least), Syracuse has this very terrible habit of scheduling tough -- sometimes too tough. So seeing Villanova, a very good FCS squad, on the slate seemed like more of that. Of course, SU has some recent body bag games with Colgate and Wagner, but that's paired with scary FCS teams like Villanova and Stony Brook. I'd be a terrible fan if I didn't think Syracuse stands a very good chance against the Wildcats. But I certainly could feel better, too.
After a win in the Texas Bowl last year, how high will Syracuse reach in 2014?
Hopefully an even better mid-tier bowl game. But there's a chance it's just another, similar mid-tier bowl game instead. The way these things work, a Northeast football team needs to improve by leaps and bounds in order to get invited to a drastically better game. So while the Orange may be able to win seven or eight regular season games (which IS better), our "heights" are still the Detroit Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl, probably, until we squeeze our way into the Gator Bowl somehow in a couple years.
What are the anticipated strengths and weaknesses of your team?
A big strength is the offensive line, which has a ton of experience and should assist Terrel Hunt in his continued improvement. Same goes for the running backs, who are aided by the line, but are also some of the roster's most talented athletes. Even without Jerome Smith, Syracuse still trots out Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore, George Morris and Devante McFarlane, so it's unlikely the opposition can shut down ALL of those guys for a full game. There's also a great group of linebackers that really powers SU's versatile pass-rush and should once again be the motor of that aggressive front-seven.
As far as weaknesses, the wide receiver position has a lot of questions, but also a lot of experience -- so that could be seen as a weakness since it's not a proven commodity just yet. The big problem is the secondary, though. At times, things were downright embarrassing for our defensive backs last season, and with a lot of youth at all four positions, there's a chance for a similar outcome this year. That doesn't mean it's without talent -- Durell Eskridge is an NFL caliber safety -- but teams will likely be able to go deep on the Orange.
Do you have any rivals yet in the ACC? Who are they and do they feel the same way?
Well, Boston College WAS a rival back when we were both in the Big East toghether -- and sort of before then, too. And now they are again, so that's pretty fun, especially after a last-second victory over the Eagles to earn Syracuse a bowl berth in 2013. The ACC keeps begging us to be rivals with Pitt, but despite 60ish straight years of playing one another, there's still very little that makes us either side care. Louisville could be a rival since we had a kind of fun thing going when we were in the Big East, but jury will be out on that for awhile.
Oddly and unrelated to our previous conference affiliation, we have this thing with Clemson now. A series of internet crazies and a shared color preference have pushed the Orange and Tigers to a pretty solid amount of hatred. There's also this, which encapsulates the Clemson-Syracuse animosity quite well.
Have you tasted the #NunesBrew yet? Can we get an early review, and will you be sending us any in the event of a Villanova upset win?
I have not, though Sean did this week. I'm headed up to Seattle this weekend though, so hoping I get to grab myself a bottle to sample as well.
No, we will not be sending you guys bottles of #NunesBrew if Villanova wins. We'll be too busy drowning ourselves with it... and every other alcoholic product we can find.