The calendar is soon to turn to May and classes will be over in just a matter of days. How will you get through the summer doldrums other than that week you will spend at the beach? Our opponent previews! We start today with a look at the first ever P5 opponent to visit Williams Stadium and Liberty’s first game of the 2019 season.
Coach: Dino Babers is entering his 4th season as head coach at Syracuse, where he has compiled an 18-19 record. Overall, he is 55-35 in 7 seasons as head coach, first at FCS Eastern Illinois and then Bowling Green. Prior to his time as a head coach, he bounced around numerous stops as an assistant from Hawaii in 1984 to Baylor in 2011.
2018 Record: 10-3, 6-2, W Camping World Bowl
Last Season: Syracuse is coming off its best season in recent memory, finishing 15th in both major polls, the first time the program has concluded a season in the top 25 since 2001. The Orange also went to its first bowl game since 2013, as they won the Camping World Bowl to cap a 10-3 season. They were picked to finish last in the 7-member Atlantic Division of the ACC, but surprised everyone with a 6-2 mark to finish in 2nd place, only trailing eventual National Champs Clemson.
The Orange nearly knocked off the Tigers for the 2nd consecutive season, losing by just 4 points in Death Valley for the team’s first loss of the season. Perhaps dealing with a bit of a hangover, Syracuse lost its next game the following week at Pitt. Their only other loss came against #3 Notre Dame in a game played at Yankee Stadium. Syracuse would not enter the polls until week 9 but they stayed in the top 25 throughout the remainder of the season.
They would conclude their season with a 34-18 win over #15 West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl.
2019 Outlook: The biggest question mark for the Orange in 2019 will be how they replace standout quarterback Eric Dungey who has graduated. Tommy DeVito will get the opportunity to guide Babers’ squad, and he had extensive reps in game action for the injured Dungey on several occasions last season. Most notably, DeVito relieved Dungey and helped guide the Orange to wins over Florida State and North Carolina. In total, DeVito played in 8 games in 2018, completing 44-of-87 passes for 525 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He guided Syracuse to three 2nd half touchdowns in a 30-7 win against Florida State as he also earned ACC Freshman of the Week honors for his performance. Against North Carolina, he had 181 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in the double overtime win.
The rest of the team is very experienced and has the Orange faithful hoping for a 2nd consecutive 10-win season. Most publications have the Orange in the preseason top 25. Dungey also provided a spark in the ground game, something that will have to picked up by the running back group in 2019 if they are to keep their top 40 rushing attack going for another season. Taj Harris and Sean Riley both return to lead a talented group of wide receivers.
On defense, Syracuse will have to find replacements for its top two tacklers a season ago, as Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner both move on. But after them, most of the playmakers on defense return for a unit that held opponents to 27 points per game a season ago.
Liberty Game Date: Saturday, August 31
Location: Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, Va.
Odds of Liberty Victory: 8 percent
Very Early Outlook: As mentioned, Syracuse will be the best and most talented team to ever play in Williams Stadium, and they may turn out to be one of the best teams Liberty has ever played regardless of location. The Flames have only faced one FBS top 25 opponent, North Carolina in 2014, but that game was the season opener and they finished with a losing record. Coach Freeze and the team should be able to feed off a juiced up crowd which should help keep the game close in the first half. Ultimately, the Orange should be able to prevail as their depth and experience take control in the 2nd half.