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Meet Syracuse, which is hurtin', and perhaps nearing a coaching change

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Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer needed a life preserver in 2015, not simply to help minimize his team's 3-9 campaign in 2014, but also to help him establish some credibility to a skeptical audience. His 2013 team, which was his first as head coach, won seven games, but that could be dismissed under the 'ol "he won with the last guy's players" clause.

Unfortunately, Shafer's 2015 has been incredibly ill-timed, in part thanks to circumstances outside of his control. On the one hand, Syracuse had to replace a significant number of major contributors on the defensive side heading into the year. And then the injuries started.

Syracuse's quarterback situation has been unsettled for what feels like the entire season to this point; Terrel Hunt suffered a season-ending injury in the opener, and backup Eric Dungey has also missed time.

Cuse Offense Off. S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 78
5.3 (99) 4.5 (57) 6.3 (103)
2014 110 4.9 (111) 4.1 (80) 5.8 (118)

Despite the turmoil at quarterback, Syracuse's offense has been considerably better, because of Dungey's surprising emergence. He's been much more efficient than any other quarterback Syracuse has put on the field this year or last, completing nearly 60% of his throws while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt. He's also a legitimate threat with his feet.

Dungey missed Syracuse's game against Clemson last weekend because of a head injury. (He's taken two major blows to the head this season, and he's only a freshman, which is terrifying.) His status for the NC State game is not clear, but if he's able to play, he can make a significant difference. If he can't go, Syracuse will go with Zack Mahoney, who also has some wheels but is a far less accomplished passer.

Dungey is Syracuse's second-leading rusher (despite missing two games) with 351 yards on the ground.

Cuse Defense Def. S&P+ national rank Yds Allowed/Play
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Rush
(national rank)
Yds Allowed/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 82
6.3 (110) 4.5 (82) 8.3 (112)
2014 33 5.0 (26) 3.4 (20) 7.3 (84)

Syracuse had a lot of veterans leading its defense in 2014--the Orange lost seven of their top eight tacklers from that team. Not surprisingly, the defense suffered, because when you ain't a football factory like elites in college football, it turns out replacing that much production is difficult.

The obvious weakness in 2015 has been the secondary, which can appear lost for extended periods of time. In ACC games, the Orange are allowing 6.5 yards per play and nearly 500 yards of offense per game. They've held just two power-five teams under 30 points (Wake, Pitt), and this is a team on a seven-game losing streak.

They acquitted themselves well last weekend against Clemson but nonetheless came up short, and that loss ensured another losing season. It's fair to wonder how they'll respond given the deflating nature of that contest, and what it means for them in the near term.

Syracuse could well end the year on a nine-game losing skid, and can Scott Shafer survive that? Maybe, but the third year of a coach's tenure is supposed to be a year of guarded optimism, while Shafer's screams a deeper fall into the pit of despair. That's no way to live.