Dino Babers Syracuse football.

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers, right, talks with his defense during a timeout in the second half of an NCAA football game against Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 44-37 in overtime.

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Before the start of Illinois football's training camp on Aug. 2 in Champaign, beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN is counting down the top 50 teams heading into the 2019 college football season:

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No. 18: Syracuse

Coach: Dino Babers

2018 record: 10-3

Projected 2019 record: 10-2

Circle the date: Sept. 14 vs. Clemson

Bowl trip: Camping World

Why No. 18: Babers has pulled off a mini-miracle in the Carrier Dome, with the former Eastern Illinois coach making the Orange relevant again. ... Syracuse will miss dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey, but replacement Tommy DeVito has a strong arm and got valuable experience in 2018. ... Receiver is a strength thanks to the return of Sean Riley, Nykeim Johnson and Taj Harris. Riley caught 64 passes last season. ... The Orange are set at tailback with the return of Moe Neal, who ran for 869 yards in 2018. ... Syracuse needs to replace three starters on the offensive line. ... If the offense stalls in the red zone, Syracuse is covered. Andre Szmyt hit 30 of 34 field-goal tries last season and won the Lou Groza Award. ... The defense improved in 2018 and should make another leap this season. Seven starters return. ... The line will be the strength of the defense, led by ends Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson, who had 10 sacks each. ... All four starters are back in the secondary. The best of the bunch is safety Andre Cisco, who had seven picks last season. ... The Orange should sweep nonconference games against Liberty, Maryland. Western Michigan and Holy Cross. In the ACC, Syracuse hosts defending national champion Clemson in the third game. Virginia and Virginia Tech are off the schedule.

Last year’s ranking: NR

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).