Big East Preview, Part 4

This is the fourth in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at maturing Syracuse. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Lame Duqualoni.  A clever term that I coined two years ago to describe the supposedly tenuous position of Syracuse Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni.  Syracuse had completed two successive disappointing seasons – including no bowl game in 2000.  And the Orangemen were facing a murderous schedule that had them staring at their first losing season in 15 years.  Pasqualoni was under fire and the lynch mob was gathering.  But Pasqualoni had the support of Athletic Director Jake Crouthamel.  A surprising 9-3 season dispersed the lynch mob and shoved that lame duck so far up one writer's ass he's still removing feathers two years later.  But guess what?  They're back.  The lynch mob, not the Orangemen.  Syracuse had that losing season last year (4-8, 2-5 Big East). 

Pittsburgh has joined Virginia Tech as Big East programs that have passed Syracuse in prestige.  Syracuse is now firmly entrenched with Boston College and West Virginia in the middle of the pack.  Something certainly is rotten in Holland.  The former New Holland, to be more precise.  Syracuse, which has built its success by religiously redshirting freshmen and developing them over five years.  However, Pasqualoni has failed to adequately develop enough players in recent years and those failures forced Pasqualoni to play five true freshman last year – including two linemen – last year to plug gaping holes in his depth chart.  Syracuse paid dearly for the resulting inexperience and lack of depth. 

Syracuse runs a very complicated multi-formational offense that combines power running, QB option, and passing in a multi-dimensional threat.  However, in recent years, the typically high-powered Syracuse offense has struggled as playmakers have not emerged, especially at QB.  And those struggles have coincided with the current four-year decline in which Syracuse finds itself presently mired.  Compounding the offensive problems, the defense has also begun to slip.  A mediocre defense that yielded yardage without yielding a commensurate amount of points in 2001 ruptured last season and was among the worst in Division IA football.  With the pending departure of Miami and Virginia Tech, Syracuse cannot be content with mediocrity.  Syracuse must be a cornerstone of a rebuilt Big East.  These larger considerations have placed Pasqualoni back on the heat seat.  While I'm not going to start quacking just yet, another losing season could be Pasqualoni's last in the Great White North.  Pasqualoni returns 15 starters, plus one kicker, from a young and inexperienced team that suffered its share of growing pains last year.  Here's a look at the maturing Syracuse Orangemen. 


Syracuse lost 4 starters from a balanced but inconsistent offense:

  • 29 points per game (#5 in the Big East and #45 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 377 yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #54 in Division 1A)
  • 189 rushing yards per game (#3 in the Big East and #34 in Division 1A)
  • 188 passing yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #79 in Division 1A)

Syracuse has a legendary running back tradition dating back almost 50 years to Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Larry Csonka.  The Orangemen will feature a TB tandem worthy of that tradition – starting TB RS Jr Walter Reyes (182 carries for 1,135 yards and 17 TD) and backup TB So Damien Rhodes (138 carries for 568 yards and 7 TDs plus 10 receptions for 108 yards).  Starting FB Chris Davis (31 carries for 85 yards) has departed.  RS Sr FB Thump Belton (21 carries for 102 yards) will replace Davis.  RS Fr Steven McDonald will backup Belton.  With the passing game expected to struggle yet again, Reyes and Rhodes will carry the load in a one-dimensional offense. 

Syracuse lost only one starter off – LG Erik Kaloyanides – off a young and inexperienced  OLine whose performance was not responsible for Syracuse's offensive woes.  Three-year starter RS Sr C Nick Romeo is the leader of the still young but now experienced unit.  RS Sr RT Kevin Sampson, RS Jr LT Adam Terry, and RS Jr LG Matt Tarullo also return.  RS So RG Jason Greene will move from backup LT into the starting lineup while Turollo switches over to LG to replace Kaloyanides.  The backups are also young but experienced.  RS Sr C Chris Buda, RS So LT Tim Carignan – a former backup LG – RS Sr RG Charles Simpson, and So RT Quinn Ojinnaka return as backups.  JUCO transfer So LG Steve Franklin will likely backup Tarullo.  This unit grew up quickly last season and will enable the running backs to successfully carry the offensive burden.

The QB shuffle, apparently resolved in 2001, reappeared last season as RS Sr QB RJ Anderson (58 of 134 for 899 yards, 4 TDs, and 8 INTs) lost his starting job to erstwhile backup QB Troy Nunes (115 of 198 for 1,337 yards, 8 TDs, and 7 INTs) midway through the season.  Nunes has departed but the QB position is still unsettled.  Anderson can't run the freeze option (53 carries for 108 yards) and his decision-making as a passer is suspect.  RS Fr QB Perry Patterson was expected to challenge Anderson but suffered a season-ending ACL injury during spring camp.  Former QB RS So Xavier Gaines, converted to WR last season, has been switched back to QB.  Syracuse's misadventures at QB likely will continue for another season. 

Productivity problems continued to plague the Syracuse passing game.  Deficiencies at receiver, combined with ongoing QB problems, have rendered Syracuse an uncharacteristically one-dimensional offensive team.  The improved passing game under the leadership of departed backup QB Troy Nunes indicated the passing problems lie more with quarterbacking than with receiving.  Syracuse lost one starter – Second Team All-Big East WR David Tyree (36 receptions for 559 yards and 3 TDs).  Furthermore, Second Team All-Big East RS Sr WR Jamel Riddle (41 receptions for 626 yards and 5 TDs) was dismissed for academics last spring and missed spring practice plus summer camp but is expected to return by the season opener.  Former backup WR Sr Johnnie Morant (24 receptions for 327 yards), for whom Syracuse has waited three years to fulfill his enormous potential, will certainly start.  RS Jr WR Jared Jones (22 receptions for 213 yards and 2 TDs) will either be the third WR or will start if Riddle is ineligible.  RS So WR Andre Fontenette (7 receptions for 89 yards) and So WR Rashard Williams also will be backups.  Starting TE RS Sr Lenny Cusumano – the better blocker – and backup TE RS Sr Joe Donnelly (12 receptions for 148) – the better receiver – again will split time.  Syracuse needs playmaking from its WRs to relieve the pressure on the running game. 


Syracuse lost 3 starters from a squad that hemorrhaged yardage and points so badly it ranked among the worst in Division IA:

  • 34 points per game (#8 in the Big East and #98 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 476 yards per game (#8 in the Big East and #113 in Division 1A)
  • 172 rushing yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #85 in Division 1A)
  • 304 passing yards per game (#8 in the Big East and #117 in Division 1A)

Syracuse is respected for its tough defenses, built upon stout DLines.   A young DLine was pushed around last season but the entire 2-deep returns intact.  Two-year starters RS Sr DE Josh Thomas (34 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and 3 sacks) and RS Sr DT Christian Ferrara (31 tackles and 2.5 TFLs) return.  However, Second Team All-Big East RS Sr DT Louis Gachelin (48 tackles, 17 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 FR) is the playmaker on the DLine.  Starting DE RS So James Wyche (41 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks) also returns.  Jr DE Julian Pollard (10 tackles), RS So DE Ryan LaCasse (19 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks), RS Jr DT Brian Hooper (9 tackles), and So ST Kader Drame (7 tackles) will bring experience to their backup roles.  The performance of the maturing DLine will be crucial if Syracuse is to restore its sturdy reputation. 

Syracuse lost two time All-Big East (Second Team last season), four-year starter, and leading tackler MLB Clifton Smith (137 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks), who rarely left the field.  Two-year starter RS Sr MLB Rich Scanlon (60 tackles, 9 TFLs, and 3 sacks) will move over from WLB to replace Smith.  Scanlon has played every LB position and will provide invaluable leadership for a young unit.  Two-year starter RS Sr SLB Jameel Dumas (94 tackles) quit the program last spring but returned for summer camp.  His presence will be crucial in stabilizing the LB unit.  The Orangemen also lost backup SLB Jose Harris (4 tackles), a JUCO transfer transferred after playing little as a backup last season.  RS So WLB Kellen Pruitt (25 tackles and 3 TFLS) will start in Scanlon's former slot.  RS So MLB Cory Brooks (8 tackles), RS Fr SLB Kelvin Smith, and RS Fr WLB Luke Cain will form a very young second unit.  The LB corps – ineffective last season – is now younger and less experienced. 

Syracuse lost two starters and two former starters from a secondary that was ranked dead last in the country.  Three-year starter SS Keeon Walker (88 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks) and starting CB Will Hunter (78 tackles and 3 FR) have departed.  As have backup CB and former two-year starter Latroy Oliver (34 tackles) and backup SS Maurice McClain (24 tackles).  RS So CB Steve Gregory (56 tackles and 2 INTs) displaced Oliver as the starter midway through last season.  RS Jr FS O'Neil Scott (61 tackles) will battle So FS Anthony Smith (31 tackles) for the starting job.  RS Jr SS Diamond Ferri, a converted TB who rejoined the Orangemen after spending a year at JUCO to regain his eligibility, will fill the void left by the departures of Walker and McClain.  RS So CB Thomas Whitfield (7 tackles) likely will replace Hunter.  RS Jr Troy Swittenburg will backup Ferri while JUCO Jr Moe Sidibe will battle RS Fr Terrell Lemon and true Fr Larry McClain for the backup CB jobs.  The back seven was a glaring weakness last season and Syracuse appears to be a year away from a solution. 


Syracuse only lost former Second Team All-Big East P Mike Shafer (39 yards per punt).  The possible academic ineligibility of Second Team All-Big East RS Sr PR Jamel Riddle (14 yards per return and one TD) could be more costly to special teams than the offense because Riddle has been tremendous for Syracuse on special teams.  So WR Rashard Williams likely will replace Riddle, if necessary.  So KOR Damien Rhodes (21 yards per return) again will field kickoffs.  RS Jr PK Collin Barber (11 of 20 FGAs and 33 of 36 XPAs) will battle former starter Jr PK Justin Sujansky, who returns after missing last season with a knee injury.  RS Fr P Brendan Carney will replace Shafer.  Special teams contributions were a key component in the 2001 turnaround.  Pasqualoni will need a similar performance this season. 


Syracuse has a full 12 game schedule with 7 home games.  The Orangemen open the season late and finish late.  Syracuse has two bye weeks – in early October and in early November.  Syracuse has a challenging non-conference schedule for a rebound season, with North Carolina, Louisville, Central Florida, Toledo, and Notre Dame all posing legitimate competition.  I guess Crouthamel saves all the cupcakes for Jim Boeheim.  The Big East schedule is favorable for a team attempting to rebound.  The upper division opponents, who are likely beyond Syracuse's reach, are road games while the lower division opponents, who Syracuse must sweep to qualify for a bowl game, are primarily home games.  The home schedule is sweepable.  The road schedule is daunting.  September will provide Syracuse with a barometer of its prospects.  A 3-1 start should propel the Orangemen back to bowl eligibility.  The key swing games are at the beginning (@ North Carolina), middle (Boston College), and end (Notre Dame) of the schedule.  A victory over Notre Dame could vault Syracuse into a bowl game ahead of Notre Dame, who would be preferable if they have at most one more loss than Syracuse. 


September 6

@ North Carolina

September 13


September 20

Central Florida

September 27


October 11

@ Virginia Tech

October 18

Boston College

October 25

@ Pittsburgh

November 8


November 15

@ Miami

November 22

West Virginia

November 29

@ Rutgers

December 6

Notre Dame



I predict Syracuse will finish the season with an 8-4 (4-3) record.  Syracuse will lose convincingly to Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Miami.  The other nine games are winnable.  The season-opening road trip to North Carolina is too tough for a team still as fragile as Syracuse.  However, the home field advantage afforded by the Carrier Dome will stake Syracuse to an undefeated home slate.  The home win against Boston College will enable Syracuse to edge Boston College for the fourth place in the Big East.  A road win at Rutgers will qualify Syracuse for a bowl game.  And a season-ending win over Notre Dame will vault Syracuse over the Fighting Irish for a bowl invitation. 

Notre Dame will barely be bowl eligible this season, at 6-6.  The Big East's "one-loss rule" that also governs Notre Dame's bowl affiliations with the Big East will enable an 8-4 Syracuse team to claim the #4 Big East bowl – the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte – against the #5 ACC team.  However, the ACC will only have four bowl eligible teams so their Continental Tire Bowl bid will become an at-large bid.  Though not eligible for the Big East's automatic bid to the Continental Tire Bowl, Notre Dame will be eligible for an at-large bid.  However, the Fighting Irish will elect to play elsewhere.  The most obvious candidate for an at-large bid is the runner up in the East Division of the Mid-
American Conference.  Syracuse will face the Marshall Thundering Herd.  If Marshall is not the runner-up, then Continental Tire Bowl will offer a 6-6 South Carolina team ahead of a Central Florida team with a better record. 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 5.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at Boston College, who is rebuilding after a disappointing season that fell short of its goals.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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