Doug Marrone returns for his third year at the helm with Syracuse having turned the program around in quick order from an also ran to a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Kansas State last season. The task in front of him is duplicating that performance with almost half of their starters gone from 2010. With a good portion of their team needing replacement the question is whether the Orange can compete playing their conservative run first ball control offense and reliance on a defense expected to keep the score manageable or do we see a more wide open style of play.
The good news is Ryan Nassib is back under center however Delone Carter has departed. However, Syracuse has what they believe is a reliable ground attack led by the combination of Antwon Bailey, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Prince-Tyson Gulley. Nassib was a reliable passer a year ago with over 2,300 passing yards and specialized in protecting the ball. The Orange will need this type of effort and possibly more if teams are able to bottle up the rushing attack. He did have trouble moving the ball against defenses that controlled the line of scrimmage and forced Nassib to beat them with his arm. He wasn’t that type of player last season and needs to have a little more ability to do that because the Orange will likely face a few teams that lock up their ground game and they simply need an alternative to pounding the ball to no avail.
The success of this team might rely on their offense given the stellar defense of 2010 has a lot of new faces and missing production. With just five starters back and their two top tacklers gone this unit is almost in rebuilding mode. Defensive end Chandler Jones leads a defensive line that lost both tackles and behind him is linebacker Marquis Spruill, the only returning player among this group. The strength of the defense is at the safety spot with Shamarko and Phillip Thomas bringing experience and ability to this position. Phillip is a dependable tackler and excellent coverage man while Shamarko has started for two years and can apply some bone jarring hits. The obvious concerns are can the front seven get pressure on the quarterback and contain the run because if neither happen it doesn’t matter ho plays safety.
Ross Krautman is a as accurate as any kicker in the Big East and beyond going 18 of 19 a year ago but his kickoffs were not strong and didn’t post a touchback. The Orange hand the punt duties to Shane Raupers who last kicked in high school averaging around 35 yards per kick so he is an unknown art this point. The return game will likely be mix and match until Syracuse finds a comfortable fit.
Marrone will have his hands full trying to replace the missing experience and talent that produced a highly successful 2010 campaign. In a way this isn’t so much different than his first year as head coach with more unknown than known. Working against Syracuse this season is a tougher schedule with trips the Wake Forest an USC looming after facing a pair of lower division squads in 2010. Anything can happen of course but it seems like all the moons and stars must align for the Orange to duplicate 2010 and I see this team landing in the lower half of the conference.