Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:03 AM

ACC Atlantic Preview

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ACC Coastal


(SU - Straight Up, ATS - Against the Spread, O/U - Over/Under)

It has become the college football equivalent to the Warriors and Cavaliers meeting in the NBA Finals; will Clemson (2017 SU 12-2; ATS 8-5-1; O/U 5-8-1) run into Alabama for the fourth straight year in the 2018 FBS playoffs? (We can safely assume that the Cavs-Warriors thing finally ended this June, but we digress.) Las Vegas sports books think it is a distinct possibility; several outlets have been posting a prop with a heavy minus price on the national title coming from one between the Tigers, Crimson Tide, Ohio State, Oklahoma, or Washington. The IPTAY crowd at Clemson, however, is feeling a bit less confident about any upcoming battles with Alabama if HC Dabo Swinney is forced to again utilize QB Kelly Bryant, who was not the kryptonite for the Nick Saban defense last season as was predecessor Deshaun Watson. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; Clemson has plenty of other challenges to overcome before it can return to the Final Four.

Still, Swinney has succeeded in putting the Tigers on the same elite plateau as the Alabamas and Ohio States (the latter beaten twice in bowl games by Dabo since 2013), so it’s natural for Tigers backers to dream big these days. The only complaint about mobile QB Bryant (665 YR last fall) is that he, unlike Watson, looked unnerved by Bama in the 24-6 Sugar Bowl Final Four loss last January 1. Many ACC sources suggested that Bryant and his accompanying swagger was a good thing for last year’s team; after Watson and his more reserved demeanor, the 2017 squad would benefit from a flashpoint like Bryant, who radiates electricity. But Swinney is now to the point where he is measured like Saban, meaning national titles, and some ACC observers believe Dabo could have a better chance vs. Bama if he sits Bryant and opts for ballyhooed true frosh QB Trevor Lawrence, maybe Clemson’s best-ever recruit. Like Watson,and unlike Bryant, Lawrence is a dangerous downfield passer, which apparently is needed to solve the Tide riddle. The assembly line of Tiger receivers features underneath threat sr. Hunter Renfroe (60 catches LY), he of the winning TD pass from Watson in the previous year's BCS title win vs. the Tide, and several speedburners waiting to emerge. Returnee RBs Travis Etinenne (766 YR & 7.2 ypc LY) and Tavien Feaster (669 YR & 6.3 ypc in 2017) are traditional Clemson quick-hitter. (Wouldn’t Tavis Smiley make for an all-name RB trio?) The line returns 3 starters including mauling sr. LT Mitch Hyatt, considered a likely high NFL draft pick next April.

It’s on defense, however, where Clemson has also staked its claim with stop units big on size and speed...much Like Alabama’s. After fielding several top ten-rated platoons in recent years, respected d.c. Brent Venables might have his best stop unit yet. Eight starters are back, including almost the entirety of a disruptive front seven; much of the DL could have been in NFL camps this summer had they not collectively decided to stick around another season after the Tigers ranked second in scoring (13.6 ppg) and fourth in total D” (276 ypg) last season. Names to watch include DEs Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, DT Christian Wilkins, and LBs Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar, who all play with a nasty edge. Injuries thinned the secondary a season ago and there were some key graduation losses, but a couple of frosh blue-chippers, CBs Kyler McDonald and Mario Goodrich, might make immediate impacts.

Dabo usually has a tough, early non-league date vs. an SEC foe, and this September it intrigues again with a Sept. 8 trip to Texas A&M and new HC Jimbo Fisher, very familiar with Clemson from his Florida State days. As always, in-state rival South Carolina (this November 24 visiting Death Valley) closes the regular season. The usual ACC banana peels dot the remainder of the slate, and worth noting that Clemson has not emerged unscathed from conference play the past two seasons, dropping decisions vs. heavy underdogs Pitt (in 2016) and Syracuse (a year ago), suggesting those types of foes might be more of a concern than high-profile types like the Seminoles, who haven’t beaten Dabo the past three seasons.

Spread-wise, the rare underdog role (5-1 last six) has suited Dabo well, but we probably won’t have to worry about that until the Final Four...if then. Curiously, Dabo is just 3-8-2 his last 13 as home chalk vs. ACC foes, and just middling overall as oddsmakers long ago began to attach premiums to Clemson pointspreads.

Everything that could go wrong did seem to go wrong last season for Florida State (2017 SU 7-6; ATS 3-9; O/U 4-8). Things started out bad and got worse; the opener vs. Alabama in Atlanta, one of the most-ballyhooed first-week games in memory, proved the start of the unraveling. If that 24-7 loss to the Crimson Tide wasn’t bad enough, hotshot soph QB Deondre Francois, regarded as a peripheral Heisman candidate, went down in the 4th Q with a knee injury that kept him out the entire season. Then things began to get real screwy, as the next two games vs. UL-Monroe and Miami both had to be postponed due to Hurricane Irma. All of a sudden, HC Jimbo Fisher had an unexpected three-week gap in his schedule after the opener, dealing with all of the storm-related distractions and, when time permitted, forced into another “summer camp” of sorts in hopes of maintaning some sort of sharpness for his team. The ULM and Miami games were rescheduled for later in the year, but the next time the Noles took the field was late September with a green frosh QB, James Blackman, against Bradley Chubb and an angry NC State defense. FSU lost, 27-21, and by the time the season reached November it looked like a bowl streak that extended back to 1982 was in real jeopardy. Only gifted with FCS Delaware State, a collapsing Florida side that had just canned HC Jim McElwain, and Sun Belt ULM in the make-up game did the Noles even get bowl-eligible before beating an outmanned, defense-poor Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl. Before that one, however, Jimbo, rumored to be on the move, jumped ship to Texas A&M in a mega-bucks deal. Nole backers can be excused for wishing that 2017 was like that one aborted season of the old “Dallas” TV show that turned out to be nothing more than Bobby Ewing’s bad dream. They're not used to living in the non-elite college FB world in Tallahassee.

Enter new HC Willie Taggart, a Florida native who in earlier assignments has propped up sagging Western Kentucky and South Florida programs and forged a modest turnaround in his one season at Oregon a year ago before heeding the call back to more-familiar territory. Taggart’s offenses have always been able to run the football, which should be good news for soph RB Cam Akers, a potential Heisman darkhorse after motoring for 1024 YR in FSU’s disjointed 2017 campaign. Francois and Blackman both return as QBs with effective full seasons under the belts; Francois is regarded to have more upside and a likely better fit for Taggart’s preferred spread-option, but his timetable for a full recovery is ongoing, and some off-field incidents might undermine his cause. Out of spring, Taggart said the QB job will be decided in fall camp...stay tuned. For the moment, the strike force would appear to revolve around Akers, though ACC insiders say Taggart and staff liked what they saw of the receiving corps in spring, especially soph D.J. Matthews, who shined in the absence of leading returning receiver Nyqwan Murray (40 catches LY), recovering from a knee injury in March. Six players with starting experience return along the OL, but it allowed 32 sacks last season and 36 the year before.

The Noles will test the assumption that their recruiting is a never-ending pipeline of talent for the defense with almost the entirety of last year’s platoon being replaced. Moroever, only DL coach Odell Haggins (who also was interim HC for the bowl win) remains with the stop unit from the Jimbo staff. New d.c Harlon Bennett, formerly at Michigan State, installed an attack-minded 4-2-5 in spring in hopes of unleashing the traditional foot speed that has often marked by the best FSU defenses. There are a couple of established anchors on the line in DE Brian Burns & DT Demarcus Christmas, and jr. CB Levonta Taylor should eventually become yet another Nole DB taken in an NFL draft. But with so much personnel turnover, there are some legit questions for the “D” as well.

FSU catches a bit of a break with the schedule as it doesn’t have to open against Alabama as a year ago, though the Taggart regime has a challenging kickoff date nonetheless on Labor Day night in an early ACC showdown at Doak Campbell vs. Virginia Tech. The rest of September looks manageable before the meatgrinder begins in October with a revenge date at Miami. Clemson (at home), Notre Dame (on the road), and a variety of tricky ACC dates before the annual regular-season-ender vs. Florida suggest that, to paraphrase long-ago actor John Houseman from long-ago Smith Barney TV commercials, “The Seminoles will have to win the old-fashioned way...they’ll have to u-h-h-n it.”

Spread-wise, the Noles have endured a few real dips after the big 2013 national title season that distorted spreads thereafter; a year ago FSU dropped its first nine vs. the number until the schedule eased in later November, much like the 2014 season when an overvalued FSU was 3-11 against the line. Taggart has generally fared better; though just 6-7 vs. the spread with the Ducks last fall, he was 17-8-1 vs. the points the previous two years at USF, and was 21-7 his last 28 vs. the mark in his prior stop at WKU.

. There’s something endearing about the throwback style of Boston College (2017 SU 7-6; ATS 8-4-1; O/U 5-8) under no-nonsense HC Steve Addazio. It’s not exactly what most remember about the Eagles from their highest-flying days in the long-ago Doug Flutie era; Addazio’s teams are more adept at trench warfare. But, as a reminder of how the game used to be played, there is something curiously refreshing about the BC approach. That might not be advised in this era of video football, especially in a high-powered league like the ACC; after a 3-9 skid in 2016, Addazio was widely considered to be on the hot seat last fall. But the pressure was temporarily removed with wins at Lamar Jackson’s Louisville and a Friday night demolition of a laboring Florida State at Chestnut Hill and a fourth bowl visit in five seasons. Now there are legit prospects for a further breakthrough in 2018.

Addazio’s BC doesn’t have to get too fancy with punishing 240-lb. soph RB A.J. Dillon in the fold. The rugged Dillon, who had de-committed from Michigan before enrolling at Chestnut Hill, blasted for 1589 YR and 14 rush TDs last fall, mostly between the tackles, as the Eagles dared their opponents to slow down the BC freight train. Expect more of the same this fall as the entirety of last year’s roughhouse OL, part of nine offense returning starters overall, returns in tact. Redshirt soph QB Anthony Brown, while no Flutie, can wheel out of trouble and seemed a decent fit for the conservative Addazio attack before a late-season knee injury that also kept him out of spring work. That’s a bit of a concern, especially in September, as serviceable backup Darius Wade, at the controls late in 2017 (including the Pinstripe Bowl vs. Iowa), has transferred to Delaware, so soph EJ Perry will have to be ready in case Brown isn't ready for the UMass opener on Sept. 1. There are established receiving targets, including do-everything sr. Jeff Smith, who has played QB at times the past couple of years. Soph WR Kobay White flashed plenty of upside as a frosh in 2017. Yet some ACC insiders wonder about o.c. Scott Loeffler, who has been Addazio’s occasional sidekick back to their Temple days but whose other recent assignments (Auburn and Virginia Tech) were not memorable. His play-calling has been so conservative at times, however, it seems as if Pat Buchanan might be pushing the buttons for the BC offense. Yet as long as Dillon and the infantry advance, the “O” should not completely bog down.

As a carryover from the preceding Frank Spaziani regime, Addazio’s Eagles continue to feature rock-ribbed defenses, though the 2017 stop unit dropped off a bit from recent nation’s-leading platoons that at one time featured in–demand d.c. Don Brown (at Michigan the past two years). After NFL-bound DE Harold Landry (Titans 2nd round) went down with injury late last season, DE Zach Allen stepped up and suggested he could become BC’s next NFL draftee; Allen recorded 100 tackles and 15.5 of those for a loss, plus 6 sacks, in 2017, all superb numbers for a college DE. There were some real injury issues last season, especially in the LB corps, as BC ranked lower vs. the rush than usual, though soph MLB John Lamot looks like he could become a breakout star. Like DE Landry, key CB Isaac Yiadom moved to the NFL (Broncos 3rd round), but the secondary still has an experienced, all-upperclass look, and sr. FS Lukas Denis emerged as a top playmaker last fall with seven interceptions, as well as a 13-tackle showcase vs. Clemson.

Addazio, who has finished at 7-6 in four of his previous five seasons at Chestnut Hill, will be expected to do better than that this fall, as the schedule seems to break pretty well. We’ll know if it has the potential to be a big year if the Eagles can survive September road dates at Wake Forest and Purdue. Addazio’s old employer Temple also invades Alumni Stadium for an interesting Sept. 29 clash. Hitting Clemson and a revenge-minded Florida State in back-to-back weeks in mid-November, however, suggests the Eagles can likely to do no better than a mid-range bowl. The fan base will start to believe Addazio will always bump his head on a lower ceiling if the Eagles can’t at least improve to 8 wins this fall.

Spread-wise, BC enters the fall on an 11-4-1 spread run, and Addazio is 7-2-1 vs. the spread his last ten as an underdog. Also no surprise that the low-variance Eagles are “under” 26-12 since the 2015 season.

We often wonder what Tennessee fans think whenever they watch Wake Forest (2017 SU 8-5' ATS 9-3-1; O/U 7-6) continue to punch above its weight for HC Dave Clawson. Rewind a decade, back to 2008, and Clawson, off of a highly-successful run as HC at Richmond, was hired by Phil Fulmer to the o.c. post for the Vols. Well, 2008 went a bit pear-shaped in Knoxville, and Fulmer and staff were forced out in an awkward-at-best autumn. Since then, UT has cycled through Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and finally Jeremy Pruitt as successors to Fulmer, not to mention employing a few different ADs along the way (and Fulmer is the AD! Go figure!) . It is not lost upon introspective Vol backers that the best coaching alternative for them was probably right there under their noses ten years ago.

Clawson, who subsequently revived Bowling Green before taking the challenge in Winston-Salem, needed a couple of years before similarly putting the Demon Deacons on solid footing in the ACC, not the easiest of tasks, especially after inheriting the end of the Jim Grobe regime, which had lost considerable momentum. Now, Wake enters 2018 having won bowl games in back-to-back years. Such is our respect for Clawson that we suspect he makes it three bowl trips in a row, though he has already been dealt a potentially-troubling detour. After four-year starting QB John Wolford graduated from the top-scoring team in Deac history, news was not good in spring when Clawson suspended QB heir apparent, jr. Kendall Hilton, for the first three games of the season. Hinton had flashed much upside in previous appearances that included a short span when wresting the starting job from Wolford in 2016, only to be KO’d by a knee injury. Hinton, a better runner and with a bigger arm than Wolford, is due back for the Sept. 22 game at Notre Dame, but Clawson will likely have to navigate the first three games with untested soph Jamie Newman at the controls. Still, eight starters return on the attack side, including the entirety of an OL that helped Wake runners gain almost 200 ypg in 2017. Matt Colburn (904 YR LY) is a punishing between-the-tackles threat. Clawson also must replace key TE Cam Serigne, but returns plenty of established targets, led by soph slot receiver Greg Dortch (53 catches LY). Redshirt frosh Sage Surratt could emerge as a legit deep threat after wowing ’em in spring.

The “D” was not necessarily a strength a year ago after respected d.c. Mike Elko was hired away by Notre Dame (Elko has since parlayed that to an even bigger-bucks assignment at Texas A&M). Concerns for 2nd-year d.c. Jay Sawvel have mostly to do with the edge, with new DEs and OLBs asked to step into the breach, though soph DE Carlos Basham could be a difference-maker. Three starters are back in the secondary, but the pass defense leaked badly down the stretch last season, and the best-regarded component, S Jessie Bates, left early for the NFL and was taken in the 2nd round of the draft by the Bengals. A key development in spring was moving former wideout Chuck Wade to Bates’ old FS role; the success of that transition could help define any improvements on the stop end.

Hinton’s 3-game absence adds a bit more unease to the September outlook, as he’ll miss games at Tulane and home vs. Towson and Boston College. Clawson will be doing well to survive that stretch unscathed, preceding a gauntlet of aforementioned Notre Dame, Clemson, and Florida State in a three-games-in-four stretch. The slate appears to ease somewhat in the second half of the campaign; if Wake is sitting no worse than 3-4 after facing the Seminoles, expect Clawson to get the Deacs bowling again. The risk of Hinton’s early absence in three winnable games, however, can’t be minimized.

Spread-wise, Clawson teams have often provided excellent value throughout his career, and his Wake enters this fall on a 15-5-1 spread run. Most notable is the Deacs’ 10-2 mark their last 12 as an underdog. Wake is also 11-3-1 vs. the line its last 15 away from Winston-Salem.

Was last year going to be the high-water mark for the Dave Doeren era at NC State (2017 SU 9-4; ATS 5-7-1; O/U 5-8)? The Wolfpack recorded its first Top 25 finish under Doeren and only third in the past 20 years. Still, this is the same Doeren who was reportedly one loss away from losing his job the previous year (NC State won in the reg.-season at Chapel Hill vs. North Carolina, apparently sparing Doeren). And AD Debbie Yow has been known to swing the axe in her career. True, Doeren is looking to qualify for a fifth straight bowl, but ACC sources report that Doeren is one subpar season away from falling back into some trouble. Once the AD loses confidence in the coach (as was apparently the case in Raleigh late in 2016), it’s hard to get it back.

Making things more difficult will be life without eight starters from last season’s robust stop unit, including ACC Defensive Player of the year DE Bradley Chubb, picked with the fifth choice in the first round of April’s NFL draft by the Broncos. The Pack got its first taste of life without Chubb in the Sun Bowl vs. a dispirited Arizona State side with HC Todd Graham heading out the door. The Sun Devils played no defense and NCS won, 52-31, but no more Chubb and the other regulars figures to be a challenge for holdover d.c. Dave Huxtable, who will have assistance from recent Georgia Tech d.c Ted Rood this season. NCS ranked only 106th vs. the pass in 2017, and it is hoped that nickel-back Stephen Griffin, a Tennessee transfer, can upgrade the secondary after pass defense was strafed by injuries a year ago. No starters return along the front six in Huxtable’s 4-2-5. OLB Germaine Pratt did display a big-play bent last season when scoring a pair of TDs, and will be counted upon to provide some badly-needed leadership.

Of course, maybe the formula that worked in the Sun Bowl, with the offense scoring just about every possession, can compensate for the defensive rebuild. Former Boise State transfer QB Ryan Finley returns for one more spin after passing for better than 3500 yards last year. He has some help, with perhaps the ACC’s best collection of returning wideouts led by jr. Kelvin Harmon, who caught 69 aerials worth 1017 yards a year ago. After both Matt Dayes and Nyheim Hines broke the 1000-yard rushing barrier the past two seasons, Doeren and o.c. Eliah Drinkwitz (like Finely also having arrived at Carter-Finely Stadium from Boise State) hope sr. Reggie Gallaspy (506 YR mostly spelling Hines last fall) will be next in line. The forward wall, however, will be breaking in three new starters.

The schedule provides a chance for a fast break from the gate, with three games at Raleigh out of the chute, though the Sept. 15 machup vs. West Virginia could be tricky. There’s a chance the Wolfpack could be 6-0 by the time it travels to Clemson, which has had its hands full with NCS the past two seasons, on Oct. 20. There’s also a chance the Pack could stumble early if the defense finds replacing Chubb and the others to be too much of a chore. Can Finley be counted upon to simply outgun most of the NCS foes this fall?

Spread-wise, the Pack had more problems a year ago than its 9-4 SU record suggests. A good bully in recent seasons (13-5 last 18 as chalk entering last season), the Pack was just 2-5-1 laying points a year ago, including 0-4 as double-digit chalk after recording a 7-2 mark in that role the previous 2015-16 campaigns. Interestingly, the Pack has covered all four the past two seasons vs. Clemson and Florida State, though that was with Bradley Chubb in the fold.

We’ve been down this road before with Bobby Petrino, which makes us believe his current run at Louisville (2017 SU 8-5; ATS 5-8; O/U 6-7) might not end smoothly...or have long to go. Petrino has never stuck around anywhere long enough to endure a slump; his many previous HC moves have either been pre-emptive or caused by his own shenanigians, as was the case at Arkansas before the 2012 season, when Petrino was forced out in tabloid-like scandal. But in the past decade, he’s also spent all of one season at stops in the NFL (Falcons in 2007) and Western Kentucky (2013) before jumping to other jobs. He already left the ‘Ville once (after 2006) following a glorious run. Salad days like those and the heyday of the Lamar Jackson era with the Cards are now in the rear-view mirror. Indeed, Petrino’s ‘Ville underachieved the last two years, losing nine games even with Jackson in the fold. In the past, Petrino might have picked right about now to bail out, but with his marketability reduced after past job-jumping in his career, he has few landing spots at the moment.

The departure of a once-in-a-decade like force in Jackson, whose 2017 did not quite match his 2016 Heisman exploits, has caused most ACC observers to deeply discount the Cards this fall. And maybe for good reason. Jackson’s dual-threat dimension at QB will not be replaced; in fact, Petrino will return to his pass-first roots with a pure thrower, aptly-named 6'4 soph Jawon Pass. He will have some experienced targets, as the trio of Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins combined for over 2300 yards worth of receptions and 20 TDs a year ago. But Pass is not going to put the fear of God into opposing defenses as did Jackson. The RBs might get more opportunities in the post-Jackson world at the ‘Ville, and the OL does return four starters. Without Jackson, however, hard to see the Cards scoring anything near last year’s 38 ppg, or ranking 3rd nationally in total offense (545 ypg) as in 2017.

Then there’s the defense, which has cycled coordinators the way Petrino used to change his jobs. After last year’s d.c. Peter Sirmon left for Justin Wilcox’s staff at Cal, Petrino has turned to Brian Van Gorder, who when last seen was getting fired by Brian Kelly at Notre Dame just four games into the 2016 campaign. Moreover, the stop unit will be almost completely rebuilt this fall, with just two returning starters. Platoon leaders will likely be a couple of breakout performers as frosh last season, LB Dorian Etheridge (the only returnee who started all 13 games last fall) and CB Ross Yeast. More questions abound for the “D” than handicapping a maiden race at nearby Churchill Downs.

A look at the schedule and the first reaction is the opener vs. Alabama (at Orlando) is a year too late; last September it would have been a much-better attraction with Jackson still in the fold. There’s also a trip later in the season to Atlantic rival Clemson, making the ‘Ville and Texas A&M the only teams with both the Tide and Tigers on their 2018 slates. Keep in mind that even with Jackson, the Cards still lost four ACC games last season. They’ll be hard-pressed to do any better this fall. We’ll see how Petrino reacts (or maybe how the ‘Ville reacts) if the Cards miss a bowl. Remember, too, that the AD who hired Petrino (Tom Jurich) is himself gone after last year’s athletic department scandal which mostly hit basketball. We’d say the tea leaves seem to be stacking up against Petrino.

Spread-wise, after the intense over-hype of the first month of the Jackson Heisman year in 2016, the ‘Ville was severely overvalued, and brings a 7-15 spread mark its last 22 into this season. The former Jackson premiums won’t be attached this fall, but “Petrino II” has mostly been a pointspread non-event, as the Cards are sub-.500 (25-27) vs. the number since 2014.

Ben Schwartzwalder must be rolling over in his grave at what his Syracuse (2017 SU 4-8, ATS 6-6; O/U 3-9) has become. Back in the glory era of the 50s and 60s and when his teams were the “Orangemen” (and not the sanitized “Orange” of today), Schwartzwalder coached a physical brand of football that more resembled Greco-Roman wrestling. The Woody Hayes Ohio State teams of the day almost looked like Joe Namath’s New York Jets by comparison to the ‘Cuse, whose games were trench warfare, physical battles conducted within the tackle box. Schwartzwalder’s Orangemen applied pure brute force, as they did in the 1959 national title campaign when allowing just 193 rushing yards...the entire season! Eventually, the Schwartzwalder style became antiquated, but not before the ‘Cuse would crumple many foes not used to such football basics; West Coast UCLA was a familiar victim, often beaten mercilessly. Such as in 1964, when an unbeaten Bruin side with designs on breaking into the Top Ten invaded old Archbold Stadium right about the time the Tokyo Olympics were getting underway. But UCLA QB Larry Zeno, the nation’s total offense leader, could only complete 4 of 15 passes for 45 yards, and the Bruins lost 4 yards rushing. Schwartzwalder’s big FB Jim Nance plowed ahead for a couple of short TD runs, and the incomparable Floyd Little took back a punt 90 yards for a score. Add in a pair of interception TDs and the final score would be 39-0. UCLA wasn’t just beaten, it was emasculated, never recovering for the remainder of the season. Indeed, in four meetings between the Bruins and the Orangemen in 1959, '62, '63, and '64, UCLA had minus rushing yardage in each game!

Fast-forward to the current Dino Babers era, and the now-called Orange don’t win games that way any longer, instead with a pitch-and-catch style bearing no resemblance to the Schwartzwalder years. The “O” operates out of a modern-day spread, and traditional running plays that used to feature the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Larry Csonka, Nance and Little are non-existent. Modern rushing numbers are deceiving because most of the yards come on scrambles and non-designed runs by the current Orange QBs, credited with almost 200 carries between them last season. Babers has a good one, sr. Eric Dungey, to pilot the speed-based spread, though keeping healthy has been a problem; Dungey missed the last three games each of the past two seasons. When on the field, Dungey can do a bit of everything; playing parts of seasons since 2015, he’s tossed 40 TDP and rushed for over 1200 yards. There is some experience in the supporting cast, but Dungey could use more help. Even though the style of the “O” more resembles volleyball, Babers would still like to get more production from holdover RBs Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal. There is plenty of speed in the receiving corps, where it is hoped that former S Antwan Corley can successfully transition from defense. The OL returns four starters, though protection was spotty in 2017; Texas A&M grad transfer Koda Martin might provide some help at the RT spot. Most importantly, however, the Orange is 0-6 SU in games missed by Dungey the past two seasons, so keeping him healthy cannot be underestimated as a key for Babers to improve upon his 8-16 SU mark since arriving in 2016.

Syracuse seemingly hasn’t won games with its defense since the Schwartzwalder era, and probably won’t this fall, either. At best, the Orange could hold some opponents at bay long enough for the offense to take advantage. The “D” does have a quality NT in sr. Chris Shelton, and a couple of experienced pass rushers in DEs Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson. Both starting CBs return from last season, too. But the LB corps, probably the strength (such as it was) of last year’s platoon, is completely rebuilt. And let’s not forget this stop unit ranked a poor 106th in total “D” last fall and surrendered 53 ppg in a 3-game skid to close the season.

Babers has scored a couple of notable upsets the past two years at the Carrier Dome, including Virginia Tech in 2016 and a real shocker over Clemson last October. The chance always remains that a foe, even a good one, might find the spread a handful. But Babers has topped out at 4 wins each of the past two seasons. The non-league slate provides a few chances at wins, but at this stage, we’d project the Orange to be underdogs in every ACC tilt. For the moment, they’re staying patient at the ‘Cuse, but if Babers can’t crack the 4-win mark again this fall, pressure ramps up for 2019.

Spread-wise, Babers has not been able to make much of a fortress of the Carrier Dome, where the ‘Cuse is 4-9 vs. the line the past two seasons. Babers did cover 4 of 5 as a double-digit dog in 2017, however, a role in which he should have a few more chances this fall.

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