Big East Preview -- Part 5

This is the fifth 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 badly depleted Syracuse. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

 

SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN PREVIEW 

Syracuse is coming off a surprisingly successful 2001 season.  After two successive disappointing seasons – including no bowl game in 2000 – the Orangemen faced a murderous schedule that had them staring at their first losing season in 15 years.  Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni was under fire and the lynch mob was gathering.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the gallows pole.  After opening the season disappointing losses to Georgia Tech and Tennessee, the Orangemen won tough games against Central Florida and Auburn, embarking upon an 8-game winning streak that eliminated the murmurs about Pasqualoni's job security. 

Syracuse runs a very unique freeze option offense that combines power running, QB option, and passing in a multi-dimensional threat.  Typically high-powered, the Syracuse offense has been the root cause of the team's recent struggles.  However, the offense was very efficient last season, scoring well for a unit that struggled to move the ball.  Conversely, the defense, which has carried the team in recent seasons, was frugal last year.  The defense bent but didn't break, allowing opponents to move the ball but keeping them out of the end zone.  Pasqualoni returns only 8 starters off this group of survivors.  He faces another challenging season.  Here's a look at the badly depleted Orangemen of Syracuse.   

 

OFFENSE

Syracuse lost 9 starters from an efficient though one-dimensional squad: 

  • 26 points per game (#4 in the Big East and #69 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 329 yards per game (#5 in the Big East and #93 in Division 1A)
  • 175 rushing yards per game (#5 in the Big East and #41 in Division 1A)
  • 155 passing yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #98 in Division 1A)

Syracuse has a legendary running back tradition dating back almost 50 years to Jim Brown.  The Orangemen have lost their top TB each of the past two seasons but should return to a more typical reliance upon their FB.  2nd Team All-Big East TB James Mungro and veteran FB Kyle Johnson are gone.  Backup TB Jr Diamond Ferri also left the program, leaving former backup TB RS So Walter Reyes (42 carries for 139 yards and one TD), who displaced Ferri as the #2 TB late last season, as the likely starter.  Sr TB Barry Baker (9 carries for 30 yards) will backup Reyes.  True Fr TB Damien Rhodes may break the Syracuse custom and play immediately instead of redshirting.  RS Sr FB Chris Davis (12 carries for 28 yards and 3 TDs) replaces Johnson.  RS Jr FB Thump Belton (6 carries for 57 yards) will backup Davis.  Syracuse has little experience and questionable depth at TB but appears strong at FB.  The FB should play a bigger role in the Syracuse offense, meaning more FB dives out of the freeze option.  And, if their QBs can't turn the option effectively (a problem the past three seasons), then the Orange coaching staff must find other ways to involve the FB. 

RS Jr QB RJ Anderson (72 of 144 for 1,123 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs) returns at the helm of the Syracuse offense.  Anderson has a sparkling 8-1 record as a starter.  I'm not sure how he does it.  Neither his passing nor his running (111 carries for 145 yards and 5 TDs) is impressive.  Chalk it up to good decision-making (i.e., few TOs) and intangibles.  RS Sr QB Troy Nunes (58 of 105 for 734 yards, 5 TDs, and 6 INTs plus 39 carries for 15 yards and one TD) returns as the backup.  RS Fr Cecil Howard, an option QB in the Syracuse mold, will battle Nunes for the backup job.   Syracuse will need more than smoke and mirrors from its QB this season.  He must take pressure off of the TBs.

Syracuse lost four starters off an OLine that performed commendably in a very one-dimensional offense – 1st Team All-Big East RG Sean O'Connor, 2nd Team All-Big East LT PJ Alexander, RT Giovanni DeLoatch, and LG Joe Burton.  RS Jr C Nick Romeo is the sole returning starter.  The good news is that the former backups are experienced.  RS Jr RT Kevin Sampson played nearly as much as did DeLoatch, whom he will replace.  Likewise, RS Sr Erik Kaloyanides played often behind Burton, whom he will replace.  RS So LT Adam Terry and RS So RG Matt Turollo likely will replace Alexander and O'Connor, respectively, but both are inexperienced.  The OLine was further ravaged during spring camp by injuries to and defections by three potential backups.  As a result, all but one backup – RS Jr C Chris Buda – are inexperienced and three are redshirt freshmen. Spring camp was a mess as Offensive Coordinator/OLine Coach George DeLeone gave his young charges a crash course.  This unit will have to grow up quickly if the Orangemen are to continue their heavy reliance upon their running game. 

Syracuse has produced more than its share of NFL-caliber receivers.  Recruiting talented receivers has never been a problem for Pasqualoni.  However, production from his receiving corps has dropped noticeably the past few seasons.  How much is attributable to the well-documented QB travails and how much rests with the receivers?  Tough question.  But, the bottom line is no receiver last season averaged at least two receptions per game.  Syracuse lost its entire starting receiver unit – WR Maurice Jackson, WR Malik Campbell, and TE Graham Manley.  The good news for Syracuse is that the backups outperformed the starters.  And they all return.  Jr WR Johnnie Morant (18 receptions for 409 yards and 2 TDs) led the Orange in receiving yardage.  RS Sr David Tyree (18 receptions for 233 yards) will start opposite Morant.  RS Jr WR Jamel Riddle (14 receptions for 323 yards), who was second in receiving yardage, will backup Morant.  In spring camp, Pasqualoni moved RS So QB Jared Jones to WR,  where he likely will backup Tyree.  The Orangemen also lost backup TE Sr David Hohensee, the expected starter, to eligibility problems.  RS Jr TE Lenny Cusumano – the better blocker – and RS Jr Joe Donelly (8 receptions for 57 yards) – the better receiver – will split time at TE.  The receivers must increase their production to take pressure off of the running game.  

 

DEFENSE

Syracuse lost 5 starters from a squad that was generous with yardage allowed but stingy with points allowed:  

  • 20 points per game (#4 in the Big East and #26 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 359 yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #46 in Division 1A)
  • 170 rushing yards per game (#6 in the Big East and #72 in Division 1A)
  • 189 passing yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #24 in Division 1A)

Syracuse lost only SLB Charles Burton from a LB corps that was the strength of the defense last season.  1st Team All-Big East Sr MLB Clifton Smith (93 tackles and 3 sacks) is a 4-year starter and anchors the LB unit.  RS Jr SLB Rich Scanlon (60 tackles) and RS Jr SLB Jameel Dumas (68 tackles) were co-starters last season.  In spring camp, Pasqualoni switched Scanlon to WLB, where he will start opposite of Dumas.  The Orangemen also lost two backups.  The second team will be inexperienced, except for JUCO transfer Jr SLB Jose Harris.  The LB corps again will anchor the Syracuse defense but depth is a concern. 

Syracuse lost the two best players in its secondary – 2nd Team All-Big East and leading tackler FS Quentin Harris and 2nd Team All-Big East CB Willie Ford.  The Orangemen return RS Sr SS Keeon Walker (67 tackles and one INT) and RS Sr CB Latroy Oliver (49 tackles and 4 INTs).  RS Sr CB Will Hunter (39 tackles and 2 INTs) will replace Ford.  RS Sr SS Maurice McClain was switched to FS, where he was projected to start before suffering a season-ending broken leg during spring camp.  RS So FS O'Neil Scott (7 tackles) will likely start in McClain's place.  With departures and attrition removing a full one-deep, the backups are inexperienced except for RS So CB Jeremiah Mason (13 tackles), who was dismissed from school in January (academics) but was re-admitted for the fall semester.  This is a solid but thin unit, except for a potentially glaring weakness at FS. 

Syracuse is respected for its tough defenses, built upon stout DLines.  Yet despite the presence of consensus All-American DE Dwight Freeney, the Orange DLine was atypically soft last season.  Syracuse lost Freeney and DT Mark Holtzman.  The Orangemen return RS Jr DE Josh Thomas (49 tackles and 2 sacks) and RS Jr DT Christian Ferrara (36 tackles and 4.5 sacks).  RS Jr DT Louis Gachelin (26 tackles and 2 sacks) likely will replace Holtzman.  RS So DE Julian Pollard is the leading candidate to replace Freeney.  As at LB and DB, the backups are inexperienced.  If the DLine is to improve upon its performance last season, the entire unit must improve its performance to compensate for Freeney's lost production and an inexperienced replacement.   

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Syracuse only lost specialist KORs Maurice Jackson and James Mungro.  RS Sr Latroy Oliver and Jr Johnnie Morant will be the kick returners.  RS Jr PR Jamel Riddle (13 yards per return) again will be fielding punts.  The Orangemen also return 2nd Team All-Big East Sr P Mike Shafer (43 yards per punt) and RS So PK Collin Barber (5 of 6 FGAs and 21 of 22 XPAs).  Special teams play earned the Orange a huge road win at Virginia Tech last season.  With the offense appearing even shakier this season, Syracuse will need strong special teams play to generate points.    

 

SCHEDULE

Syracuse has a full 12 game schedule with only 6 home games.  The Orangemen open the season on a Thursday night.  Syracuse has two bye weeks – in late September and in late November.  Syracuse has a tough non-conference schedule with Brigham Young, North Carolina, Auburn, and Central Florida posing formidable threats.  The home schedule has three key games – North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech.  The road schedule is daunting, without hardly a single breather – at Brigham Young, at Auburn, at West Virginia, at Central Florida, and at Boston College. The key stretch in this rigorous schedule will be consecutive games at Central Florida and against Virginia Tech.  The challenging schedule gives Syracuse steep "yield curve".  Meaning, that are a many more tough games than laughers.  If the Orange are slightly better than forecasted, it could mean several more wins against opponents of similar caliber.  Likewise, if Syracuse is a little worse than forecasted, it can mean several additional losses to comparable opponents.  Bottom line – a small increment in performance could be the difference between a 5 win season and a 9 win season.  

August 29

@ Brigham Young

September 7

North Carolina

September 14

Rhode Island

September 28

@ Auburn

October 5

Pittsburgh

October 12

@ Temple

October 19

@ West Virginia

October 26

Rutgers

November 2

@ Central Florida

November 9

Virginia Tech

November 16

@ Boston College

November 30

Miami

   

PREDICTION

I predict Syracuse will finish the season with a 7-5 (4-3) record.  The home games against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech will be the most important conference games, as they could mean the difference between a 2nd place tie and 5th place. The home field advantage afforded by the Carrier Dome gives a depleted Orange team a chance but Syracuse will only split these two games.  The Dome has lost its mystique for Virginia Tech since the Hokies won 22-14 two years ago.  A more confident Hokie team will prove just enough to beat Syracuse. 

The road games at Brigham Young and Central Florida are the keys to the non-conference schedule.   The travel, the altitude, and the firepower of Brigham Young will overwhelm Syracuse in the season opener.  Brigham Young will jump Syracuse early, forcing the Orangemen to play catch-up and abandon its ball control offense.  Central Florida also has a potent passing game but a November matchup will allow Syracuse time to gel.  The Orangemen will win a close, ball-control game as they did last year. 

Notre Dame will not be bowl eligible (sniff, sniff) this season.  Thus, Big East teams will realize their full complement of bowl games.  Syracuse will be the Big East representative in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.  Syracuse will play the Maryland Terrapins (ACC #5).  WAIT!  Didn't I already predict Maryland would play Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl?  Yeah, but I lied.  North Carolina will play in the Gator Bowl (ACC #2) while Maryland (ACC #5) will fall to the Continental Tire Bowl (although Maryland could get screwed in favor of local favorite North Carolina State).  . 

 

Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 6.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at retooling West Virginia.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to bump86@earthlink.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


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