One of the most anticipated events of every winter for college football fans is expert Phil Steele releasing his list of projected returning starters for every team in the nation. Your 2017 leader is Syracuse. Will that translate on the field?
College football expert Phil Steele notes that last year there were 19 teams that returned 16 starters or more, including their quarterback. Of those teams, 12 had a better record in 2016 than they did in 2015. Four had the same record and only three of the 19 had a weaker record. So this is a very important statistic. Keep in mind, however, that players can get hurt, become academically ineligible, be suspended or transfer between now and the start of the season.
Obviously the most returning starters a team can have is 22 – kickers don’t count – and Syracuse brings back a whopping 20 of them, including every defensive player. The Orange finished 4-8 overall last year and 2-6 in the ACC in Coach Dino Babers’ first season. Babers runs a fast-paced offense, but the Orange were only 90th in scoring at 25.7 ppg. They were 115th in rushing.
Quarterback Eric Dungey is back and he was very good at times. Dungey missed the final three-plus games due to injury but threw for 2,679 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven picks. He also rushed for 293 yards and six scores. Syracuse’s best win last year was a 31-17 upset of No. 17 Virginia Tech in which the Orange rolled up 561 yards of offense on the nation's third-ranked defense. Dungey accounted for 417 yards and two touchdowns in becoming the first player in school history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a single game. Dungey does lose record-setting receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, who caught 94 balls for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Perhaps it’s not necessarily a great thing that all 11 defensive starters are back considering Syracuse allowed 38.6 ppg, which was 120th nationally. The Orange allowed at least 45 six times and closed the season allowing 76 in a loss at Pitt. That was a school record. The combined point total of that game (137) beat the previous FBS record of 136 set in 2007 when Navy outlasted North Texas 74-62.
No 2017 wins totals have been posted yet at sportsbooks. Syracuse is +50000 on 5Dimes college football odds to win the national title. Obviously that’s not happening. A step forward would be a bowl appearance.
Syracuse opens spring practice on March 21. The Orange open the season on Sept. 1 vs. Central Connecticut State. They should be 3-0 when visiting LSU on Sept. 23. SU has a very tough conference schedule with trips to Miami, Florida State and Louisville as well as home games vs. Clemson and Pitt. Other than the opener, it’s arguably the toughest schedule in the country as each of the 11 FBS opponents on it played in a bowl game last season.