By William Qualkinbush
Most people look at conference realignment as an athletic issue or a monetary issue. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, however, sees a geographic component as well.
“Looking at the demographics that have been shared with us, the population is moving east and southeast,” he said. “For us at Syracuse, it’s great to be part of that wave, not only on the football field but academically.”
Syracuse is the northernmost school in the Atlantic Coast Conference—over 1,400 miles away from Miami—but is excited about the challenge of bringing its talents to the southern part of the country. Newness pervades the entire program. At head coach, quarterback, and all over the field, fresh faces are there to guide the Orange into a new era of football.
Shafer says his new program has a lot of “gone guys” from last season, but there is momentum present that he hopes can carry over to a new league.
As a member of the Big East, the Orange finished last season with a flurry, winning six out of seven games to close the year. Then Doug Marrone left the head coaching post for the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Ryan Nassib and offensive lineman Justin Pugh left for the NFL, and the program seemed in disarray.
Shafer has stabilized things as the season approaches. He has worked all over the country, but this is his first head coaching gig after being Marrone’s defensive coordinator for all four years of his tenure. An attractive quality about Syracuse, according to Shafer, is a unique identity that will only get stronger in the ACC.
“The best players that we’ve produced at Syracuse over the years are a bunch of kids who were no-names coming out of high school,” he said. “They didn’t have four stars or five stars beside their names.
“We have to be careful. Recruiting is a funny thing. Syracuse has had a ton of success for a long time. There’s great tradition. You have to accept who you are and why it’s worked in the past.”
Playing against high-caliber opponents in major media markets will only enhance Syracuse’s recruiting profile. Shafer says he is looking forward to facing schools like Clemson or Florida State that can further put the Syracuse brand out in front of the public, much like its win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl last season.
“That’s a team that spreads it out,” Shafer said of the Mountaineers, “a team that’s got a guy that can throw it and get it to the perimeter quick with great wide receivers. It sounds like Clemson to me. It sounds like a lot of the teams we’re going to have to try to slow down a little bit on a fast track in this conference.”
Shafer has no qualms about taking his team into some of the ACC’s most hostile arenas. In fact, he says new competitors might find the Carrier Dome to be a tough nut to crack.
“It’s a great place to play,” Shafer said of the Orange’s home stadium. “It’s a hard place to play. That dome’s different, now, and our fans are a tough bunch of cookies that enjoy Saturday afternoon.”