Redshirt junior Terrel Hunt showed flashes during an inconsistent first year as the starter. He helped the Orange to a 6-4 record down the stretch, including the 21-17 victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, after getting his first start in SU’s fourth game. But the Orange finished outside the top 100 in passing offense and Hunt went through a six-game stretch without a TD pass. Hunt finished strong with career highs in completions, attempts and yards against Boston College (29-43-270), including a game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds left, in the regular season finale that gave SU bowl eligibility. Hunt seems poised after what coaches and teammates described as a strong offseason, and his consistency will play the biggest factor in the Orange’s success. Sophomore Austin Wilson and freshman A.J. Long are ahead of Mitch Kimble in the battle to be Hunt’s backup.
Fifth-year senior Prince-Tyson Gulley will lead a committee that includes juniors George Morris II and Devante MacFarlane, and senior Adonis Ameen-Moore. Gulley missed parts of five games last year and, because of other past injuries, was granted an extra year of eligibility. Gulley has a career 5.3 yards-per-carry average and scored a career-high 11 touchdowns as a junior in 2012. Morris II finished second among returnees with 334 yards on 72 carries last year. McFarlane’s career bests in rushing yards came against top-five teams Clemson (93) and Florida State (81) last season. Ameen-Moore, who played sparingly last year after being used as a goal-line back as a sophomore in 2012, has reportedly dropped around 15-20 pounds in hopes of once again becoming a factor.
Seniors Adrian Flemming and Jarrod West are expected to start on the outside, while junior Ashton Broyld and sophomore Brisly Estime will be featured in the slot and all over the field. Broyld set an SU sophomore record with 52 catches last year, and registered a team-high 452 yards. West led the team with 15.3 yards per catch among players with 10 catches or more. Flemming was injured in last year’s season opener against Penn State and missed the rest of the year. Estime is likely the team’s fastest player and has potential for a big second year. His 28 receptions ranks third on SU’s all-time list for freshmen, and he missed two games with an injury. Estime is also expected to be unleashed on punt and kick returns this season. True freshmen Steve Ishmael and Jamal Custis finished preseason camp strong, according to SU coaches, and are expected to see playing time. Seniors Jeremiah Kobena and Quinta Funderburk, along with junior Alvin Cornelius III, will have to compete to find a role in the offense.
Junior Josh Parris was slotted as the starter before an injury late in preseason camp that should keep him out of the first two or three games. He finished with just 13 catches for 90 yards as a sophomore, but had career bests of seven catches for 47 yards and his only two touchdowns, including the game-winner with six seconds left, in last year’s bowl eligibility-clinching victory over Boston College. Sophomore Kendall Moore and Tyler Provo, the younger brother of former SU standout Nick Provo, will have to pick up the slack in Parris’ absence.
Senior left tackle Sean Hickey has started all 26 games the last two seasons and will lead this group. Hickey is the Orange’s only member of the preseason All-ACC team and is listed on several national preseason award watch lists. Baldwinsville native Nick Robinson, another returning starter, will handle the right guard position. John Miller, who played in five games as a backup guard for the Orange last year, is expected to start at center. The former transfer from Los Angeles Harbor College is tasked with replacing Macky MacPherson, a three-year starter and 2013 All-ACC second teamer. Last year’s starter Ivan Foy is behind junior Michael Lasker for the right tackle spot while Omari Palmer is ahead of Rob Trudo for the left guard position.
Marcus Coleman and Isaiah Johnson will both likely see playing time in an attempt to replace the graduated defensive tackle Jay Bromley, a 3rd-round NFL draft pick of the New York Giants. Senior Eric Crume will return at nose tackle after starting 11 games and recording 28 tackles last season, helping Bromley clog up the middle for the only defense in the nation that didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher. Seniors Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh, who started 13 and 12 games last year, respectively, will return at the defensive end spots. Welsh is the leading tackler among returning D-linemen with 32, and Robinson registered 22 stops. Junior Ron Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder, figures to be in the rotation after 20 tackles, including 4½ for loss, in his first year with the defense after converting from tight end.
Two of the Orange’s best all-around athletes will be featured at the outside linebacker positions and make this group the strength of the defense. Senior Dyshawn Davis, named to the preseason Butkus Award Watch List, ranks eighth all-time at SU with 31½ career tackles for loss. His 49 tackles ranked fourth on the team last year. Cameron Lynch ranked second on the team last year with 69 tackles, including 12 for loss. He was named to two national preseason award watch lists as well as two national “freak athlete,” lists this offseason. Sophomore Marqez Hodge will look to replace Marquis Spruill in the middle. Spruill ranked third on the team with 66 tackles as the senior captain of the 2013 defense. Hodge played in eight games last year and finished with 23 tackles. Seniors Josh Kirkland and Luke Arciniega should also see some time at linebacker.
Junior Durell Eskridge, who led the team with 78 tackles and four interceptions last year, will return to start at free safety after being named to the All-ACC Third Team as a sophomore. At cornerback, senior Brandon Reddish and junior Julian Whigham are slotted to replace last year’s starters, Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson. Reddish made 36 tackles in seven starts for an injured Lyn last year, while Wigham ranked second on the team with three interceptions. Seniors Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir will split time at strong safety as they did a season ago. Desir and Kelly finished with 47 and 44 tackles in 2013, respectively.
Junior Ryan Norton will be the kicker after senior Ross Krautman called it a career before preseason camp because of a chronic hip injury. Norton made 10 of 15 field goals last year after replacing the injured Krautman. Senior Riley Dixon will return as the starting punter and will also handle kickoffs. Estime has the potential to be a big threat in the return game. He returned just nine kicks/punts combined last year, but that includes a 70 yard punt return in the Texas Bowl to set up the game-winning touchdown. Desir will also return kicks as he did last season.
SU coaches and players have stated eight wins as their goal and they have a tough road to get there. The Orange plays three teams in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and eight 2013 bowl teams. SU was predicted to finish fourth in the ACC Atlantic Division — behind defending national champion Florida St., Clemson and Louisville — in a poll among reporters at the conference media days in July. SU should easily collect nonconference wins over Villanova and Central Michigan, and would be the favorite at Wake Forest and home against North Carolina State. SU isn’t likely to compete with Florida State at home or Clemson on the road. A matchup with Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., becomes more intriguing with the recent UND academic scandal, but even after dismissing some key players, the Fighting Irish would still project as the favorite. The Orange’s best chances at capturing an upset will be against Louisville or Duke in the Carrier Dome. SU will close the year with evenly-matched consecutive road games at Pittsburgh and Boston College, former Big East opponents that project to be right around the .500 mark with the Orange. Another game that could go either way is a nonconference home game against Maryland. Overall, the Orange will likely have to win its fourth bowl game in five years to reach its goal of eight wins, while finishing .500 in the ACC for the second straight year.
Prediction: 7-5 overall, 4-4 ACC.
— Josh St.Croix, Times Sportswriter