NCAA Football 2012: Syracuse Orange Preview

By Jim Donahue

Syracuse seemed to have momentum heading into 2011 after Doug Marrone had led the previously downtrodden Orange to a bowl game in 2010. It wasn’t a catastrophe that the team went 5-7 in 2011, though the five-game, season-ending losing streak could have a lingering effect. However, at a basketball-first school, such as this one, failing to build on the eight-win season of 2010 and a bowl win could be costly in recruiting. A move to the ACC next season may or may not help things.

Turning it around won’t be easy. Thirty-eight lettermen return, while 22 are lost. Senior Ryan Nassib returns for a third year as starting quarterback, but most of the offensive playmakers (including 1,000-yard rusher Antwon Bailey) and leading pass rusher Chandler Jones are gone. The offense appears bland – again.

After a year away from the postseason, one would assume that success in 2012 would be defined simply by a return to a bowl game. The schedule might not cooperate very much, however. Syracuse hasn’t been a dominating home team in years, but the Orange would be wise to reverse that trend this season. Including a date with USC in New Jersey — just four hours away from the Carrier Dome — the Orange will open the season with four home games out of the first five contests. And Syracuse will end the year with four road games in the final five.

What to watch for on offense: Looking for some pop on offense, especially in the running game, the coaching staff could turn to a rookie, who doesn’t even have a set position yet. Ashton Broyld is technically a 6-4, 229-pound quarterback. However, since he’s such a good athlete, and would be buried on the depth chart anyway, the Orange plan to employ his dual-threat skills in myriad different ways. He’s listed third on the depth chart at running back, but will also take direct snaps in “Wildcat” looks, and even split out wide as a super-sized receiver. The SU offense has been predictable in recent years, and Marrone has resisted fans’ pleas to open it up — despite the fact he was part of a freewheeling, high-scoring offense with the New Orleans Saints before returning to his alma mater.

What to watch for on defense: While coordinator Scott Shafer is all about dialing up pressure as much as feasibly possible, uncertainty at defensive end could force the coach to become creative. Yeah, he’ll deploy his linebackers and safeties on seek-and-destroy missions, but how often will depend on the development of the ends. The Orange needs to replace both Mikhail Marinovich and first-round NFL Draft pick Chandler Jones, a daunting task. The three-man rotation will be comprised of a situational pass rusher, Brandon Sharpe, a rookie, Donnie Simmons, and a repurposed nose tackle, Deon Goggins. From the trio, Syracuse is hoping to mount an adequate pass rush.

Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, WR Marcus Sales OT Justin Pugh, LB Marquis Spruill, S Shamarko Thomas

Key losses: DE Chandler Jones, DE Mikhail Marinovich, RB Antwon Bailey, TE Nick Provo, S Phillip Thomas

Odds to win Big East: +1800

Sept. 1– Northwestern