Syracuse Is Minnesota's Opening Opponent

The Minnesota Gopher football team opens the 2009 season in four weeks at Syracuse. The Orangemen are coming off a disappointing 3-9 season and hired former Syracuse graduate Doug Marrone, a former pro football player and Division I and NFL coach to return to his alma mater as the program's 28th head coach in December.

Doug Marrone served as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints for the past three seasons. The Saints led the NFL in total offense (410.7 yards per game) and passing offense (311.1 yards per game) and quarterback Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards (5,069), so it is expected that Syracuse will make big strides offensively.

Syracuse, which plays three Big Ten teams to open the season. They face Penn State on the road in Week 2 and plays Northwestern at home in Week 3. The Orangemen returns seven starters on both side of the field. The most interesting battle for a starting spot could be at quarterback. Cameron Dantley, son of NBA Hall Famer Adrian Dantley, was one of 35 players to participate in all twelve games, including eleven starts. He made the team as a walk-on in 2005 and earned a scholarship for the 2007 season. Dantley completed 121 of 251 passes (48.2%) for 1,298 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

However, he is expected to receive plenty of competition from Ryan Nassib, a redshirt freshman who is listed as the starter and Greg Paulas, a transfer from Duke. Paulus started four years for the Blue Devils at point guard, where he didn't play football. However, he was a high school All-American signal caller and since he has just one year of eligibility remaining, Paulus could get an opportunity to take over at the position.

The Orangemen will have a new backfield this season. Curtis Brinkley, who had received recruiting interest from Minnesota out of high school, rushed for 1,193 yards last season on 237 carries and graduated.

Antwon Bailey is the likely starting running back. He rushed 33 times for 221 yards as a freshman. Bailey rushed for 126 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown in a victory over Notre Dame.

The Orangemen welcome back Mike Williams, a second-team All-Big East Conference choice, who missed last year, due to academics. He caught touchdown passes in nine straight games, the longest active streak in the country and caught 60 passes for 837 yards and ten touchdowns in 2007. The 60 receptions tied a single-season school record. Williams already ranks sixth all-time at SU in career touchdown passes with 14.

Dante Davis led the team in receptions last season. However, he caught just 29 passes for 312 yards.

The Orangemen return three of five offensive linemen on a offensive line that averages 299 pounds. Tight end Mike Owen caught 19 passes, second on the team for 175 yards.

Defensively, the Orangeman return seven starters, led by Arthur Jones, a 6-foot-4, 291-pound defensive tackle who is sixth on the Syracuse career tackles for loss record list (31.5) and ranks 13th on the career tackles by a defensive lineman record list with 126. His 13.0 tackles for loss in 2008 is the 11th best in Syracuse history. Jones was named All Big-East first team.

They return four of their top five tackles, led by junior linebackers Derrell Smith and Mike Mele, who had 73 and 72 tackles, respectively. Both started in all twelve games last season.

Syracuse returns three starters in the defensive backfield. However, they had just eight interceptions last season.

Punter Rob Long averaged 43.9 yards per kick, fourth-best mark in Syracuse History. He was third in the Big East and 14th in the country.

Redshirt freshman Austin Wallis is expected to take the kicking duties.

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