By Sean Fernandez
It’s the middle of the summer, which means Doug Marrone and the Syracuse Football team are busy preparing for the season that lies ahead. This will be Marrone’s 4th year at the helm, and it could be the last one that the Orange play as a member of the Big East conference. We’ll take a look at the expectations that this year’s team will face, and how we think they’ll do in comparison.
Last season had its fair share of fireworks but was ultimately a big disappointment. Fans were given reasons to cheer when the Orange erased a 29-14 4th quarter deficit to come back and beat Wake Forest in the season opener, and when they massacred West Virginia 49-23 in front of the Carrier Dome faithful. After the WVU win, the Orange were 5-2 and seemed to have a bowl appearance locked up. Then, all hell broke loose. The Orange dropped their last 5 games of the year and finished at the bottom of the conference with a 5-7 record. It was painful to watch.
It’s a new year, but that doesn’t mean everybody has forgotten about the struggles of last season. Offensive inconsistency and an inability to cover opposing teams’ wide receivers plagued the Orange and were both to blame for the collapse. Questions such as whether or not these areas can be improved are part of the reason why SU is being predicted to finish in the lower half of the conference.
Offensively, QB Ryan Nassib is back for his 5th year of eligibility and could be one of the best QB’s in the conference. He’ll have the unproven, yet promising duo of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley behind him splitting carries in the backfield and the combination of Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon to throw to. Up front, LT Justin Pugh and C Macky MacPherson are back and should form one of the better O-Lines in the conference. The offense will have to show up and consistently score points if the Orange want to improve on last year’s 5-7 record.
The Orange defense was among the worst in the Big East last year, but an experienced group of Linebackers and a lightning-fast Secondary is focused on shutting down the opposition. MLB Marquis Spruill and SS Shamarko Thomas lead their respective units, both of which should be better than a year ago. A major question mark for the defense lies up front, where Senior DE Deon Goggins will have to excel in his attempts to replace NFL Draftee Chandler Jones.
Finishing with a .500 winning percentage (6-6) or better would make SU bowl-eligible. While this is definitely a feasible goal, the Orange will have to do so playing a brutally tough schedule. They will face a full slate of Big East games in addition to out-of-conference contests against USC, Northwestern, at Missouri, and at Minnesota. Three Keys: 1) Ryan Nassib-
Nassib threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 23 TD’s last year, so the expectations are that he’ll do even better this year. He’ll have to continue his improvement for Syracuse to succeed and for him to get drafted. Needless to say, all the pressure is on the fifth year senior. 2) The Secondary-
Shamarko Thomas and Jeremi Wilkes are both very athletic at safety, but an injury may keep CB Keon Lyn out of the lineup for part of the season. Piecing this group together will be a key for Marrone and new Defensive Backs Coach Donnie Henderson. 3) Running Backs-
Antwon Bailey and his 1,051 rushing yards from last year are gone, leaving the rushing duties to sophomores Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. Establishing a running game will take some of the pressure off Nassib and will make the offense far more dynamic. Prediction-
The Orange will go 6-6 this year, with a 4-3 record in the Big East.