With summer in full swing we are taking a look at where Clemson’s P5 opponents stand for the 2019 season. Over the summer we’ll be conducting Q&As with the SB Nation sites for opposing teams as well as providing our own scouting report. We continue with the Tigers’ Week 3 opponent: Syracuse. John Cassillo at Nunes Magician was more than willing to answer our questions.
STS: What has been the mood of the fanbase in the wake of last year’s results?
I’d say pretty excited. After a rough decade and a half, Syracuse fans were pretty excited to earn 10 wins last year and start really cashing in on the promise Dino Babers presented when he arrived. Now that everyone’s a believer, however, there may be a bit of overconfident with regard to where the Orange stands in the ACC overall. That’ll probably come back to earth a bit when the season starts and nervousness takes over once more, as it usually does. But we’re still a pretty optimistic group right now.
STS: What are some of the biggest changes to occur in the offseason?
Eric Dungey’s gone, as I’m sure several ACC fan bases are pretty happy about. SU also lost top run-stuffer Chris Slayton, three offensive linemen, the top two linebackers from last year and two more offensive weapons in Jamal Custis and Dontae Strickland. Not a short list, but a lot of teams have to replace more than that.
STS: Which players have you been keeping an eye on this offseason?
Tyrell Richards played some defensive line and linebacker last season as a reserve, but could really be a key to this year’s defense. We got some hints at what Tommy DeVito could do under center last year, so I think Syracuse fans aren’t too concerned that he’ll be able to jump in and be productive, and are excited for how the offense could look a bit more efficient with him taking the reins.
Everyone’s been pretty hyper-focused on what the offensive line could look like, though we had some injuries that kept guys out a bit plus a grad transfer addition in (South Alabama’s) Ryan Alexander. The O-line will definitely look a lot different when the Orange get to camp later this summer.
STS: What do you see as the positions of strength for this team? Potential weaknesses?
The defensive line was a major part of last year’s resurgence, collecting a program-record 43 sacks on the year. While Slayton departs, everyone else is still there, and we expect that group to be plenty aggressive once again in getting after opposing quarterbacks. SU’s wide receivers are a pretty solid and experienced group at the top of the depth chart, and there’s a lot to like about their potential with a bigger arm (DeVito) throwing to them this year. The secondary is also very deep and has a lot of upside even after last year’s breakout. Special teams brings everyone back too, and that should be a huge boost once again in the field position game.
As for potential weaknesses, there are two big areas of concern: offensive line and linebacker. Syracuse replaces a lot of production there from veteran-heavy groups last year, so there could be a bit of a learning curve early (not a great arrangement with a road game vs. Maryland and the Clemson game both in the first half of September). DeVito’s going to excel, but we’ll see how quickly he gets comfortable at QB - especially with an offensive line that will still be figuring things out.
STS: What are you expecting from the team heading into the 2019 season?
Dungey’s absence could be cause for alarm, but the four-year starter also wasn’t really running Dino Babers’s offense. That, plus a lot of returning talent at key spots gives Syracuse fans a lot of reason to believe the Orange will capitalize on a mediocre ACC and make a run at eight or nine wins again in the regular season. There are a lot of toss-ups, admittedly. But the only game really out of reach (on paper, anyway) is Clemson. If Syracuse can even manage to split the toss-ups, they’re probably looking at eight wins.
STS: Any bold predictions, fun, or inspiring stories surrounding the team this offseason?
Bold prediction: The Syracuse offense will actually be better this year (or at least more efficient) than it was last year. Between DeVito and Oklahoma transfer Abdul Adams at running back, there’s a lot to like about this team resembling Babers’s preferred approach on offense.
The most inspiring story around the team was definitely Cooper Dawson’s commitment back in February, who let his friend Kingsley Feinman (who has cerebral palsy) announce his decision. It was a cool moment, and it’s great to add someone like Cooper to the team and as a potential ambassador for Syracuse athletics going forward.