Things have not started as Doug Marrone as the Syracuse football team had hoped. The Northwestern game slipped through their fingers, they underperformed by most accounts against Stony Brook, and the performance against Minnesota was just awful. Things seem to be trending in a negative direction. Despite that, there are reasons to be hopeful as the Orange get into Big East play.
Despite the lack of production against Minnesota, the offense has been a huge improvement from previous years. Ryan Nassib still ranks second in the country in passing yards, and Marcus Sales is eleventh in receiving yards. The fast-paced, no-huddle offense has worked wonders as Syracuse has been able to move the ball up and down the field.
The offense is also getting reinforcements. Arguably the weakest part of the offense is the right tackle position where Lou Alexander has been struggling. All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh will be returning from injury, moving Sean Hickey over to right tackle. Hickey has been very good on the young season. That one move turns an offense line that has been decent into one that can be a strength for this team.
Adrian Flemming, arguably the most impressive wide receiver in training camp, will also return against Pittsburgh. Flemming will join a rotation that includes Alec Lemon who's rounding into form, Marcus Sales who has been excellent, and Jarrod West who has taken big strides in 2012.
Ashton Broyld should also continue to get more reps going forward. He should be utilized in the redzone, as he could be an effective weapon in that situation. But given that he is just a true freshman, the staff has not wanted to overwhelm him. Broyld is a playmaker, however. He should see more touches as the season progresses.
There have been countless mistakes so far. Costly turnovers, failure to convert in the redzone, penalties, special teams issues, etc. It could be argued that those mistakes have cost Syracuse at least two games if not three.
The good news is, most of those mistakes have been self-inflicted. In prior years, mistakes happened due to Syracuse not being able to compete talent-wise and athletically. That is not the case this year. If they can start cutting back on those mistakes, this can be a very solid football team that could compete for a Big East championship.
More good news for Syracuse is that the most difficult part of the schedule is over. Facing two Big-10 teams, and a preseason favorite for the national title in the first four games was daunting. The Big East does not have murderer's row out there.
Connecticut is not very good, South Florida has had major struggles so far, Pittsburgh is very beatable, Cincinnati has an inconsistent quarterback, and Temple is not overly talented. Would it really be a huge surprise if Syracuse won those five games?
We all know that Syracuse has given Rutgers problems ever since Marrone took over. Generally, those Rutgers teams have been more talented than Syracuse. That gap is closing, and the Orange will be looking to avenge last year's heart breaking loss. That game is also winnable.
In order to beat Louisville, they will likely need an effort comparable to the West Virginia win in 2011.
Yes Syracuse has struggled so far, but the season is far from over. With eight games left, two major goals for the season are still attainable. Winning the Big East and making a bowl game.
With players returning from injury, the Orange must clean up their mistakes if they hope to reach those goals. The offense is good enough to win games in the Big East.
As the defense continues to come together, they must create more pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers. Markus Pierce-Brewster must pick up his play by becoming the pass-rushing threat he appeared to be in camp.
The special teams must also continue to improve. Though dismal through the first few games, they improved greatly against Minnesota.
With the way the schedule sets up, there is an opportunity for Syracuse to still have a successful 2012 season. The coaching staff and the players must step up if that is to happen.