The Syracuse offense dealt with a certain amount of scrutiny in 2011, especially over the last month of the campaign. From Ryan Nassib's pass-protection to the amount of carries Antwon Bailey would receive in a game – down to which receiver would step up when Nick Provo's tendencies were discovered.
Even with all of the question marks, five Orange players were a bit better than the rest.
Nassib – like many Syracuse players – had an up-and-down season. He electrified with big games against West Virginia and Wake Forest at home, but struggled against Connecticut and Pittsburgh down the stretch. Nassib had three games of at least three touchdown passes, and he finished fourth in the Big East in both pass efficiency and total offense. The redshirt junior showed supreme toughness game after game, and he amassed 22 touchdowns against just nine interceptions on the way to the school record for yards in a season (2,685) and completions (259).
Bailey was the workhorse that the recent SU teams have seemed to need each year. He became the third straight starting running back to notch 1,000 yards in a season, and he added 200 yards and a score through the air as well. But his impact in the offense was bigger than stats. Bailey was a solid blocker when the opposing team blitzed, and he secured the ball more times than not with the exception of the Rutgers game.
Provo set the team record for career catches by a tight end (96) as well as the single-season mark (51). His seven touchdowns led the team and his 537 receiving yards was second to Lemon's 834. Provo was not the best blocker on the team, but he progressively got better in 2011. He also became more elusive with the ball in his hands in the middle of the season despite a 6-foot-4, 249-pound frame.
Pugh was clearly the best of the big guys up front, especially against the pass. Though Nassib took his fair share of hits in 2011, Pugh was not the culprit except for on a few occasions. The junior earned first team All-Big-East honors along with Bailey, Provo, Andrew Tiller and Chandler Jones.
Lemon had some midseason lulls, but he exploded for the Orange down the stretch on the way to an impressive season. He had 30 catches over the last four games on the way to nearly 500 yards and three scores. Lemon's 68 catches are a single-season record and his 834 yards on the year was among the 10 best campaigns in school history. The junior was the team's best route-runner and most sure-handed target along with Provo.
Winner: Antwon Bailey
In the closest race yet, Bailey snuck by Nassib in the end. He was the most reliable player for the Orange and the only player seemingly going all-out at the end of the season when things became bleaker for SU. Bailey ran hard all year, but really put it on the line over the last few weeks. He set up blocks well all season long, and answered all the questions about taking the brunt of the load with Delone Carter now in the NFL. He was able to notch more than double the carries from his junior year on the way to the nearly 1,300 total-yard campaign.