NCF Nation: Jeremi Wilkes

Syracuse Orange season preview

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Syracuse Orange:

Key returners: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Ashton Broyld, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, DT Eric Crume, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Brandon Reddish, S Durell Eskridge

Key losses: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Marquis Spruill, DT Jay Bromley, CB Ri'Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes

Most Important 2014 games: Sept. 27 vs. Notre Dame (in East Rutherford, New Jersey), Oct. 3 vs. Louisville, Nov. 8 vs. Duke, Nov. 22 at Pitt, Nov. 29 at Boston College

Projected win percentage (from ESPN Stats & Information): 51 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5.5

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt passed for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He added another 500 yards rushing with seven touchdowns on the ground.
Instant impact newcomer: John Miller best fits this bill, as he is a junior college transfer who saw just limited time last season, his first with the Orange. Now the former Los Angeles Harbor College player looks to build off a spring that saw him emerge as one of the team's most improved players and as a leader on offense. Miller is the front-runner to start at center for Syracuse and should allow others around him to stay in their natural positions.

High point from 2013: Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left in the regular-season finale to top rival Boston College 34-31 and earn win No. 6. This was a major boost for Syracuse, which ended up beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6 in Year 1 of both the Scott Shafer and the ACC eras. It might have been a watershed moment for Hunt, too, as he enters 2014 looking to take the next step as a leader of this offense.

Low point from 2013: Losing big to heavyweights Florida State and Clemson is one thing. But a 56-0 loss at Georgia Tech, a team that went just 7-6 and enters 2014 with major questions, is pretty much inexcusable. It stands out even more considering the Orange entered the game coming off a win at NC State and won two straight contests right after the Atlanta trip. (It also stands out after Shafer made his thoughts known about Atlanta winters, and after the Twitterverse replied as the Twitterverse is wont to do.)

Best-case scenario for 2014: Hunt evolves as a passer and as a runner, orchestrating an offense that has made it known it would like to push the tempo in 2014. Unlike last year, the Orange enter the season knowing who their No. 1 quarterback is, and that proves beneficial as they race out to an early 3-0 start. The front seven steps up and Syracuse is able to steal a win during a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, emerging on the other end ready to tackle a final month that concludes with road contests at former Big East foes Pitt and BC. Syracuse improves in Shafer's second season, hitting his goal of at least eight wins, and the future looks bright for a program looking to emerge as a legitimate No. 3 team in a top-heavy Atlantic division behind FSU and Clemson.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Hunt struggles to command the offense with more responsibility, the defense can't seem to make up for the loss of Bromley up front and the Orange get eaten alive by a tough schedule. A trip to Wake Forest provides a reprieve during a five-game stretch that features the aforementioned teams above plus Clemson on the other end. No matter, though, as a physically beaten team staggers into the final month with only NC State as a winnable game. Syracuse wins four games, its worst season since Doug Marrone's inaugural 2009 campaign.

They said it: "I was happy with the way we finished the season. I thought both Terrel [Hunt] and the wide receivers did a nice job finishing up with the victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, but we need to take it to the next level to get to the next level. We're always going to really work hard to run the football. I believe in running the football, I believe in stopping the run. I think that's where it starts with our philosophy. But in this day and age, you've got to be able to open it up, and we put the onus on our passing game, our wide receivers, to take their game up." -- Shafer, on the passing game becoming more explosive

Pitt and Syracuse will soon be the ACC's problem. Maybe that conference can figure each team out, because both remain mysteries in the Big East little more than a month into their last hurrahs.

The final meeting between these programs in Big East play went the way of the Orange, as they edged the Panthers 14-13 in a Friday-night home contest. It had been almost a year since Syracuse won a Big East game, that one also coming during a Friday-night home game over an outgoing conference member (West Virginia).

Make no mistake: This is a huge victory for the Orange, who did themselves no favors in the tough nonconference portion of their schedule and need every win they can get to have a shot of getting to a bowl game. Coach Doug Marrone shouldered much of the load publicly during the bye week, and his players answered early and held on strong late to pull out the tight victory.

Syracuse marched 70 yards on its first drive of the game to go up 7-0 ... and did not score offensively afterward. A 52-yard fumble return by Dyshawn Davis -- on a turnover forced by Jeremi Wilkes -- made it 14-0 before the first quarter was over, and the Orange defense stepped up big against the Panthers.

Pitt, also coming off a bye, entered this game riding a historic two-game offensive stretch but failed to generate much momentum. Ray Graham had trouble throughout the night, rushing it 24 times for just 57 yards and the team's lone touchdown. He added 31 yards on four catches. The Panthers as a team finished with 27 rushing yards on 37 carries, and they did themselves no favors by committing six penalties.

Pitt's Tino Sunseri put up pretty numbers -- 25 of 33 for 319 yards with no turnovers -- but was on his back much of the night, getting little help up front but stepping up time and again. Brandon Sharpe led the charge for the Orange, recording four of the team's five sacks and stopping Pitt whenever it threatened, often forcing the Panthers out of field-goal range. Sharpe finished with six tackles for loss.

Five games (and two conference tilts) in, and it's fair to call Pitt the Big East's biggest enigma, looking awful for two weeks, great the next two and falling somewhere in between Friday. Next Saturday the Panthers host preseason conference favorite Louisville, which will be coming off a bye, so all bets are off with this bunch moving forward as it looks to improve off its 0-2 Big East start.

Syracuse (2-3, 1-0) visits Rutgers next Saturday.

Syracuse suspends Phillip Thomas

November, 18, 2011
Syracuse starting free safety Phillip Thomas has been suspended for one year for an undisclosed violation of athletics department rules, the school announced late Friday.

His Orange career is likely over.

Thomas, a junior, has been the best player on the defense this season, leading the team with 82 tackles and the Big East with six interceptions. Jeremi Wilkes is the likely replacement in the starting lineup. Syracuse is off this week before playing Cincinnati next Saturday.

Thoughts from Syracuse practice

April, 12, 2011
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Some observations after attending Syracuse's 13th practice of the spring on Tuesday (if there are any typos, it's because I spilled Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sauce on my keyboard):

  • With the spring game on tap Saturday, the Orange did quite a bit of scrimmage work in a somewhat-abbreviated practice. The defense had the upper hand at last weekend's scrimmage and kept that going on Tuesday. The offense did well in some short-yardage work, but the defense dominated in goal-line and two-minute drills. That's notable, given that the offense returns far more starters than its relatively young counterparts on the other side of the ball. Doug Marrone said the offense had "some lingering bad taste" from Saturday's performance.
  • Of course, the offense might have had a better day if Marcus Sales had caught a ball that deflected off his hands on fourth-and-10 from about midfield in the two-minute work. Sales said afterward that he would have caught that in a game. And the best news, at least for the offense, is that he was able to get behind the defense in such an obvious passing situation.
  • Sales looked good the rest of the practice and seems to be carrying over his big Pinstripe Bowl performance. The receivers have a little more depth with him, Alec Lemon and Van Chew, who isn't fully healthy yet. Jarrod West looks like he can be a solid possession receiver. Dorian Graham is fast but still has trouble catching the ball.
  • You don't hear much anymore about a quarterback competition. Ryan Nassib is the obvious starter and showed some nice skill in a couple of play-action bootleg passes to tight end Nick Provo. Nassib probably isn't going to wow you, but he's solid and there's no one really pushing him for playing time right now. Charley Loeb wold be the backup if the season started today.
  • Antwon Bailey showed some nice moves as Syracuse really focused on running the ball during most of the scrimmage portions. He got around the corner a couple of times and flashed good shiftiness between the tackles. I have questioned whether or not the 5-foot-8 Bailey could hold up as an every-down back, but hey, Noel Devine and Dion Lewis have done it in this league. Prince-Tyson Gulley is also coming on. He had maybe the play of the day by the offense when he juked Jeremi Wilkes out of his shoes on a pitch play.
  • True freshman Dyshawn Davis is currently running first-string at linebacker. Coach Dan Conley spent time giving Davis a lot of extra instruction. Syracuse could be awfully young at linebacker with Davis and true sophomore Marquis Spruill in the middle. Senior Dan Vaughan is trying to hold on to a starting job at the other spot and would give the Orange some experience.
  • The other big question mark on defense is at the interior line spots. Cory Boatman (256 pounds) and Jay Bromley (273) were manning that position with the first unit on Tuesday. While they had success against a veteran line, they are still undersized for those spots. Marrone said the defensive tackle position probably would be filled by committee this season.
  • Overall thoughts: The Orange are well-stocked on the offensive line, at defensive end and at safety and will have a veteran quarterback and some potential playmakers at running back. They will need the young guys at linebacker and defensive tackle to really come on, and for the passing game to improve over last year. But it's not unrealistic to consider them a Big East contender in 2011.

Syracuse recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
Analyzing the 2010 Big East signing classes ...


View class here.

Signees: 31

Heavy on: Linebackers (six), receivers (five)

Geographic trend: New York, Pennsylvania and Florida are heavily represented.

Headliners: QB Jonny Miller (three stars); CB Jeremi Wilkes (three stars).

Sleeper: Take your pick: 16 players earned only two stars or lower.

Best potential for immediate impact: Don't be surprised if Miller makes a serious run for the starting quarterback job as a true freshman.

Needs met: Syracuse needed bodies to fill out the roster and got that with a huge class, seven of whom enrolled in January and will count against last year's class. The Orange also needed playmakers at wideout and more linebackers, and those positions made up a large chunk of this otherwise balanced and diverse group.

Analysis: There aren't a lot of showstopper names in this bunch, but second-year coach Doug Marrone is still working to get Syracuse back in the forefront of recruits' minds. What he has done is get the program back to its traditional recruiting roots in New York, Florida and elsewhere. And he's now got a lot of players to work with, unlike his first season. It's up to Marrone to develop these guys and prove the recruiting rankings wrong.

What Marrone said: “The one thing that I can say about this class as a general topic is that everyone in this class can run. Everyone who is involved with football knows that you have to bring players in who can run. That's an important part of what we're doing here to develop our football team. ... We're starting with players who already have a good frame on them who will keep developing and maturing their body. ... Linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back -- they are areas that we're looking to fulfill. The only area that our numbers are not ideal would be at the corner position."

Scouts Inc. grade: C-minus