Syracuse’s Scott Shafer in better place

JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — No scrambling this year for Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.

“I feel more comfortable because I already did it once,” said Shafer, who led Syracuse to a 7-6 record in 2013 and a bowl victory in its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “There’s still not a lot of experience, but year two is a little easier than year one.”

A year ago, Shafer had to hit the ground running after Doug Marrone’s abrupt departure to take over the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The graduation of record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib only heightened the anxiety for the first-year coach as he searched for a replacement.

In the end, he found one in Terrel Hunt, and he demonstrated a flair for the dramatic as the season wound down.

“I’m real excited to see how Terrel steps into his role of being the returning quarterback,” Shafer said. “He had a great Texas Bowl and all those things, but that’s in the past. He understands that. I just want to see him systematically get better from day to day, and I am excited to see his progress. There is a sense of calm knowing I trust the offense is in Terrel’s hands.”

Hunt did not play as a freshman and got in only one game on special teams in his redshirt year. He took over from Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen in the third game last fall and struggled until the season was on the line. He then led the Orange to a stunning 34-31 win over Boston College, hitting tight end Josh Parris with an 8-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the regular season after throwing a late interception that sent many fans scurrying for the Carrier Dome exits.

The victory gave Syracuse the required sixth victory to play in the postseason, and Hunt followed that by scrambling 12 yards for the decisive touchdown with 74 seconds remaining to lift Syracuse to a 21-17 victory over Minnesota.

The 6-foot-3 Hunt has bulked up to 233 pounds and displayed tremendous zip in his throws during the annual spring scrimmage in April.

“It’s a feeling like no other knowing I’m the starter,” Hunt said. “I went from every day going home wondering if I was going to even play to now where I can just think of running the team and the competition.

“Now that I know what to expect, being more comfortable in the ACC, and coming into the season with your head held high rather than looking around whether you’re going to play, that’s a big difference.”

Added senior offensive tackle Sean Hickey: “I think there’s always a sense of calm when you know that signal-caller and know how he is in the huddle or how he is on the sideline, how he is adjusting to things. I think there’s a lot of comfort with the players who’ve played with him. It’s definitely a positive.”

Five other things to know about Syracuse:

BIG CHANGES: Syracuse lost 19 players from the bowl team, including captains Jay Bromley, Macky MacPherson, Jerome Smith and Marquis Spruill. And Shafer’s staff includes two new faces — offensive line coach Joe Adam, former head coach at Elmhurst College, and tight ends coach Bobby Acosta, former head coach at Widener.

HOW FAST CAN YOU GO?: Syracuse ran an up-tempo offense last year, and offensive coordinator George McDonald wants to speed things up even more. “It’s going to be real exciting,” Hunt said. “If I see something I need to change, it gives me enough time that I can do it.”

EIGHT IS ENOUGH: Shafer is targeting eight victories as a goal, and the players are buying into it despite one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. The Orange face defending national champion Florida State, Maryland, Louisville and Duke at home, Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and Clemson, Pitt and Boston College on the road. “I say eight is a good level to reach for because you never want to go back,” Hickey said.

RUN AGAIN: Syracuse’s reputation was built on the ground with the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, and Jim Nance. Last year’s top back Jerome Smith left school a year early, but the returning stable is capable and includes Prince-Tyson Gulley (83 carries for 456 yards and 4 TDs), Adonis Ameen-Moore, George Morris II, and Devante McFarlane. “Everybody knows what they have to do,” Gulley said. “We’re not new to the system anymore. We’re all veterans of the system, so it’s just a case of picking up where we left off.”

WHO’S BUYING?: The Orange open the season against Villanova on the last Friday night in August. In an effort to boost attendance, for every ticket purchased for the game against the Wildcats, Shafer will buy an additional ticket for that fan.

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