The Sports Xchange

NCAAF Team Report - Syracuse - INSIDE SLANT

It's a slight exaggeration to say that eight is enough, but for Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, that's the first benchmark he's focusing on.

That's one more wins than the Orange managed in his first year at the helm of the program in 2013, when the team secured bowl eligibility in the final seconds of the regular-season finale and then beat Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Eight would be a step up -- though there's still more that would lie ahead.

"For me you always want to have a start point, but you never want to put limits on yourself, both as an individual and as a team, so we talk about getting better daily with everything we do," Shafer said. "So when we started went about looking at our goals, I said, 'Let's start off with eight wins.' That's what our initial target is but by no means is that the bar. We want to go out and win them all.

"We want to go out and win an ACC Championship, that's the ultimate goal in our program and you can't do that without getting better one season to the next and then doing a great job in your division and then shoot for that ultimate goal of winning the ACC Championship."

To keep that dream of an ACC title going beyond the early days of the season, Shafer will need quarterback Terrel Hunt to continue to progress. Hunt grew into the role quickly after taking over the starting role last September, but Shafer's also trying to keep Hunt from getting complacent and getting the backups ready in case they are needed.

"I'm excited to see Terrel and his role of being a returning quarterback. He had a great Texas Bowl and all those things, but those are all in the past. I'm excited for him to get better and I'm excited to see his progress day-to-day, but I also know there are some guys behind him who would love to steal his job and make it controversial," Shafer said.

One thing's for sure -- the pace of play should improve. Syracuse tried to get the snaps off quickly a year ago and not having to break in a new quarterback makes that easier to accomplish this season.

"The goal is to go fast and to be creative and I really like what our offensive coaches have put together from the beginning of spring to the end of spring," Shafer said. "I know the defensive guys are the same way. We've tweaked a few things here and there and I'm anxious to see what it looks like."

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NCAAF Team Report - Syracuse - NOTES, QUOTES

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Orange face a tricky first month of the season. After opening at home against Villanova, Syracuse travels to take on a Central Michigan team that finished 6-6 a year ago, though unlike the Orange the Chippewas didn't see its .500 season end in a bowl bid. Then comes a home date with Maryland -- now a nonconference tilt thanks to the Terrapins move to the Big Ten -- before the jewel of the nonconference schedule arrive: the Sept. 27 game vs. Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: If Syracuse hopes to take a step forward, it will be counting on its quarterback to do the same. Terrel Hunt was impressive as a freshman, and he spread the ball around a year ago, but there's no obvious No. 1 wideout on the roster. Pace of play will be important, as the offense will look to get the ball snapped quickly, and out of Hunt's hands and into those of the speedsters in the backfield or the slot who can turn quick hitters into long gains.

AREAS OF CONCERN: With Ross Krautman forced to retire because of a hip injury, the kicking duties fall entirely to Ryan Norton, which isn't exactly a cause for optimism given his up-and-down performance a year ago. Special teams are iffy heading into the season, and the defense will be looking for a pass-rusher to replace Jay Bromley on the line.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think whenever you get to the second year of any job, I remember when I was a defensive coordinator from year one to year two, and I look back and say man I wasn't the brightest guy in the world and you wish you can get some things back. I would say the same as far as being in my second year (as head coach)." -- Coach Scott Shafer, on entering his second season as the Syracuse coach.

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NCAAF Team Report - Syracuse - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, second year at Syracuse, 7-6 record at Syracuse and as a head coach