Monday, August 19, 2013

season preview: Syracuse Orange


8/31: Penn State
9/7: @ Northwestern
9/14: Wagner
9/21: Tulane
9/28: BYE
10/5: Clemson
10/12: @ NC State
10/19: @ Georgia Tech
10/26: BYE
11/2: Wake Forest
11/9: @ Maryland
11/16: @ Florida State
11/23: Pittsburgh
11/30: Boston College

Skip: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech

2012 results:

Northwestern: L, 42-41
USC: L, 42-29
Stony Brook: W, 28-17
Minnesota: L, 17-10
Pittsburgh: W, 14-13
Rutgers: L, 23-15
Connecticut: W, 40-10
South Florida: W, 37-36
Cincinnati: L, 35-24
Louisville: W, 45-26
Missouri: W, 31-27
Temple: W, 38-20
West Virginia: W, 38-14 (Pinstripe Bowl)

Record: 8-5 (5-2); T-1 of 8, Big East

Projected starters:

QB: Drew Allen (5Sr.)
RB: Jerome Smith (rJr.)
RB: Prince-Tyson Gulley (Sr.)
WR: Jarrod West (rJr.)
WR: Adrian Flemming (Sr.)
TE: Beckett Wales (Sr.)
LT: Sean Hickey (rJr.)
LG: Rob Trudo (rSo.)
C: Macky MacPherson (Sr.)
RG: Nick Robinson (rSo.)
RT: Ivan Foy (Jr.)

DE: Robert Welsh (rJr.)
DT: Jay Bromley (Sr.)
NT: Eric Crume (Jr.)
DE: Micah Robinson (rJr.)
LB: Cameron Lynch (Jr.)
LB: Marquis Spruill (Sr.)
LB: Dyshawn Davis (Jr.)
CB: Keon Lyn (Sr.)
CB: Ri'Shard Anderson (5Sr.)
FS: Jeremi Wilkes (Sr.)
SS: Durell Eskridge (rSo.)

K: Ross Krautman (Sr.)
P: Jonathan Fisher (Jr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Scott Shafer, 1st season

Media prediction: 6th of 7, Atlantic Division


2012 1st team: WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, S Shamarko Thomas
2012 2nd team: QB Ryan Nassib, DL Brandon Sharpe
2012 HM: n/a
2013 preseason: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

**2012 selections from Big East

Is Syracuse "back"?  Doug Marrone did a pretty solid job bringing the Orange back to respectability after the inexcusably pathetic Greg Robinson years, taking Syracuse to two bowl games and eight-win seasons in four years.  Not amazing, but Athlon Sports called Robinson's tenure at Syracuse the sixth-worst coaching job of the past fifty years, so there was a lot to fix.  Unfortunately for Cuse, Marrone decided to leave town to take the Buffalo Bills' head coaching job, which must have caused some interestingly conflicted feelings in upstate New York.  Syracuse enters the ACC with a new head coach in Scott Shafer, elevated from defensive coordinator to his first-ever head coaching position.

-- Offense

A quarterback competition brews in Syracuse, at least, at the time of this writing.  I suppose it's possible they pick one by the time you read this.  The contenders are Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt; Allen is a senior transfer from Oklahoma, where he was a career backup who saw only garbage-time minutes in his time there, while Hunt is entering his redshirt sophomore season and has never taken a college snap.  Either might succeed, but probably not play up to the level that Ryan Nassib reached as a senior last year.

Whoever wins will at least have a running game to help him along.  For one thing, the offensive line is in pretty good shape as far as the starters go.  Senior center Macky MacPherson is a Rimington watch list candidate who hasn't missed a start in the last two years.  Left tackle Sean Hickey started at both tackle spots last seaon, and left guard Rob Trudo found his way to the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman last year and didn't leave it.  At right tackle is Ivan Foy, a part-time starter in 2012 who saw his action at right guard.  Nick Robinson at right guard may be the one question mark, as his playing time is limited mainly to special teams action.  However, there are few options behind; the second string consists of redshirt freshmen, recent juco transfers, and walk-ons.

The best thing Syracuse has going for them, though, is probably their running backs.  The platoon of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley should be among the best 1-2 punches in the conference.  Smith piled up 1,171 yards rushing last year, and Gulley ran for 830, more than many primary ballcarrying options in the ACC.  Gulley is the usual choice in the red zone, and can break one open as well, with a 67-yard touchdown run that was Syracuse's second-longest play from scrimmage.  And Gulley is the one with pass-catching skills as well, hauling in 33 receptions, with another 60+ yard touchdown in that area of the game.

The Orange will need his talents in that department, because they took a big graduation hit at receiver.  The best returning receiver is Jarrod West, third in most categories in 2012.  His 43 catches were respectable, but there are very big shoes to fill with the departure of Big East first-teamer Alec Lemon.  Senior Adrian Flemming is listed atop the depth chart, but there are plenty of other candidates that will be needed to step up, including potentially the speedy Jeremiah Kobena and part-time contributor from 2012 Chris Clark.  Old recruiting board name Quinta Funderburk will also be in the conversation after transferring from Arkansas and sitting out last season.  Ultimately, this has all the hallmarks of being something that carries over into the season until dependable names emerge.

It's awfully hard to say how productive the passing game will be, but it'll almost definitely be a step back from last year; when you have to replace your quarterback and receivers, it's hard for it not to be.  The running backs, though, should help to make sure the offense can still move the ball and generally be the safety net that prevents Syracuse from being a huge mess.

-- Defense

The thing to like best about Syracuse's defense is the linebackers.  Holdover starters Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis combined for 23 TFL last season.  Davis in particular is athletic and versatile; he was responsible for 14 of those TFL, as well as picking off a pass and recovering two fumbles, and returning those fumbles a combined 52 yards.  MLB Spruill is a heady player and a big leader of the defense who has started 36 games in his career, missing only two starts since being named a starter immediately as a true freshman.  The other starter, Cameron Lynch, has been a very productive player off the bench in the past two years and should be more than ready for the full-time starter's job.

In the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson have each started 19 games in the past two seasons; both are seniors that bring a lot of veteran talents to the position.  Lyn intercepted three passes in 2012.  Syracuse has to replace some veteran leadership at safety, losing top tackler Shamarko Thomas, but senior safety Jeremi Wilkes is a solid player and will ease the transition.  And Thomas's replacement, sophomore Durell Eskridge, started two games last season and, like Lynch, was a productive member of the rotation and ought to be ready.

Up front, though, there are a lot of new faces.  Defensive tackle Jay Bromley is the only returning starter.  Nose tackle Eric Crume looks like a solid player, but the Orange don't bring back any defensive ends with a track record of generating a consistent pass rush.  DE Micah Robinson has been in the rotation, with one start in 2012, but doesn't have eye-opening stats, and Robert Welsh doesn't have much more than token snaps under his belt.  There is some depth at tackle, but end is awfully thin and overall, other than Bromley, the unit could struggle to generate a pass rush.

However, Scott Shafer is a respected defensive coach, and his ascension to the head job means better continuity than usual during a coaching turnover.  There are plenty of good, experienced players in the back seven and the defense should be solid.

-- Special teams

Ross Krautman has held the Syracuse kicking job for each of his three seasons on the team, but was much better in 2010 and '11 than last season.  Jonathan Fisher is just about an average punter with an average of about 39 yards.

-- Outlook

The media's prediction of 6th place in the division for the Orange is probably underrating them.  Cuse loses Ryan Nassib, true, as well as a couple playmakers on defense and a huge chunk of their receiving corps.  But this team did win eight games last year, smoking eventual Sugar Bowl champ Louisville on the way, and beat opponents from the SEC and Big 12 as well.  And there's a lot of returning talent, more than the media is probably giving them credit for.  While I think the season will be a scrap for bowl eligibility for the Orange, I don't think they'll finish as low as 6th, either.

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