25 Reasons to Be Pleased This Season

Syracuse has done much under the leadership of head coach Doug Marrone. CuseNation.com offers you a look at the good work that has been done inside.

In the Christmas season as in the year as a whole, it is important to reflect on the positives.

The Syracuse football team becomes the center of attention with 25 reasons to appreciate where the team is and where they are heading.

In no specific order:

1. Quarterback Ryan Nassib:

No one has thrown for more yards or achieved more touchdowns at the helm of the Orange offense than Nassib.

He has brought Syracuse back to recognition with his seemingly unchangeable poise and constant will to make plays.

In his last seasons as the man under center in orange and blue, Syracuse has achieved two bowl games, helping to turn the team toward a brighter future.

2. Wide receiver Alec Lemon:

Lemon joins Nassib in setting Syracuse history, and he could not have done it without him.

On the receiving end of Nassib's attempts, Lemon has caught more passes than any other player in Orange history.

He has also been an integral part of Syracuse late-game comebacks, including his leading, with Nassib, of the drive that beat the Southeastern Conference (SEC)'s Missouri on the road.

3. The return of wide receiver Marcus Sales:

Sales had the best performance of his collegiate career in the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl in 2010.

But, in 2011, he was suspended for his conduct off the field.

The question for this season, therefore, was whether or not the Pinstripe Bowl meant Sales had a good game or if it was a sign that he could be a threat throughout the season.

Sales answered that question by gaining numerous 100-yard receiving games, looking like he never lost a step in the Nassib-run offense.

4. Hands:

In Fall camp 2012, Syracuse;s receivers struggled to hold onto the football. In one practice, almost every wide receiver/tight end dropped at least one pass that hit them in the hands or sailed through them.

As the season progressed, the team's hands got better, with the passing game taking off under Ryan Nassib.

Even more impressive is the fact that the best hands at Fall camp belonged to wide receiver Adrian Flemming and he was never sent out onto the field.

5. Sean Hickey:

Hickey was a big question mark going into this season. He was not a previous starter, never asked to protect Nassib throughout a game before.

But, when Justin Pugh would not be ready to start the season, in came Hickey, who looked comfortable from the beginning.

The smooth transition he provided from Pugh to himself aided the Orange to be competitive on the offense.

Then, with Pugh back, Hickey was asked to move to the right side of the line. After doing so, that side of Nassib's protection became of less worry after it had been obsolete in helping Nassib do his job.

As a newcomer on the field, Hickey was not only successful, but he was durable and flexible, something you cannot understate.

6. The entire offensive line:

Nassib has had the best protection of his collegiate career this season.

Despite still being sacked and being rushed out of the pocket at times, Nassib has been given more time on many occasions to see the field.

Being given more time has coupled with Nassib surveying the field better, ultimately leading to more favorable pass attempts more often than not this season.

7. Defensive end Brandon Sharpe:

Sharpe has been asked to be a factor from the beginning and has been elevating his game since then.

He currently resides atop all Syracuse defenders in sacks and has become one of the best in all of the Big East Conference in taking down the opposing quarterback.

Sharpe's pressure has helped to aid the Orange in staying competitive en route to much-needed victories that have resulted in a bowl berth.

8. Suppressing the run:

Syracuse had a great run, pun intended, in preventing their opponents' rushing attacks from being much of a factor in their first three games within the Big East.

Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and UConn were all met with a Syracuse rush defense that contained them, leading to two wins among those three matches for the Orange.

Despite faltering later on in the season, Syracuse's rushing attack has been providing enough help to bring about victories.

9. The backfield:

Syracuse looked different this season from seasons past. First, there was Delone Carter. Then, Antwon Bailey. Now, there is Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, and Adonis Ameen-Moore.

Each player has proven that they can run between the tackles as well as make plays in the open field.

With different body types, each poses a different threat to Orange opponents.

Gulley has also displayed good hands to catch the ball when needed, giving the backfield another element to utilize, especially in rushed situations.

10. The tank package:

With people all over the world opening packages on Christmas, this one for Syracuse has been a gift that just keeps on giving.

Moore's bruising ability to hit and/or be hit and continue moving led to the Orange staff's decision to design a goal-line package that asks Moore to carry the load over the threshold.

In four straight games for Moore, he was a piece of four touchdowns, one per game. For the first three games, Moore ran the ball in for his own touchdowns. In the fourth game, Moore ran the ball first and then was used as a decoy for a fake handoff that led to a passing touchdown from Nassib to linebacker Lewellyn Coker.

From inside the five, Adonis has shown that less (yardage to goal) is, well, Moore (territory).

11. Winning over running quarterbacks:

In half of their games this season, the Orange have faced dual-threat quarterbacks, who do not just use their arm, but also their feet to defeat defenses.

Syracuse rose out of those six contests with a record of 4-2, losing to Northwestern and Cincinnati, but emerging victorious over South Florida, Louisville, Missouri, and Temple.

12. Comeback team:

Syracuse rallied back against South Florida and Missouri to win on their final drives in the fourth quarter of each match.

In prior seasons, an Orange team down seemed to stay down. But, this unit has showed resolve, refusing to lie down, especially as of late.

13. Winning out of conference and on the road:

Syracuse's win over the Missouri Tigers was their first versus a non-conference opponent on the road since October 8th, 2011, when they defeated the Tulane Green Wave in Louisiana, 37-34.

The time spent between non-conference road wins was over a year, with the victory over Missouri coming on November 17, 2012, by the score of 31-27.

14. Winning on the road within the Big East:

November 13, 2010. That was the last time Syracuse had won away from the Carrier Dome against a Big East opponent coming into this season. The victory came versus the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in New Jersey, 13-10.

Then, on October 27, 2012, the Orange broke the almost two-year drought, gaining the final advantage over the South Florida Bulls, 37-36.

15. Back-to-back road wins:

Another blemish cast away this season was Syracuse's inability to win in consecutive games away from their home.

The last time the Orange had won two straight road games was back in 2010 on October 23rd and 30th, when they defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers and Cincinnati Bearcats, respectively.

More than two years later, Syracuse ended this season and yet another drought by winning on November 17th and November 23rd, versus the Missouri Tigers and Temple Owls, respectively.

16. Playing above the rating:

The Louisville Cardinals came into the Carrier Dome ranked as the ninth-best team in the country, with an undefeated record of 9-0.

They left the Carrier Dome on the wrong side of a 45-26 romp by the Syracuse Orange.

Head coach Doug Marrone has now won against a team ranked in the nation's top 25 in all of his four seasons. He led the Orange over 15th-ranked West Virginia, 49-23, in 2011, 20th-ranked West Virginia, 19-14, in 2010, and 25th-ranked Rutgers, 31-13, in 2009.

17. The return of Carl Cutler:

Cutler was unable to play in both the 2010 and 2011 campaigns due to a knee injury.

But, he did not give up or give in. Cutler returned to the field for the first time since 2009 this season. Despite not consistently gaining receptions for the Orange, he made catches that kept drives going, something he would not have done if not for his determination.

18. A positive move:

Linebacker Siriki Diabate began the season by tying his total tackles mark from all of 2011 within the first few games of 2012.

Diabate had rotated in and out of games last season, but was elevated not only to a starter, but to the lead linebacker position at middle linebacker.

He automatically improved the position from what it was last season, speeding to the ball, tacking opponents down without help, getting after the quarterback, and knocking away passes in the open field.

19. JUCO transfers:

Some may criticize going after junior college transfers, but the fact is, they have become vital components of Syracuse improving as a team.

Diabate went from being used sparingly at times to leading the Orange defense from the middle.

Defensive tackle Deon Goggins has opened up holes in offensive lines for himself as well as his teammates to utilize and has provided an advancement against the run.

Defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster played his way into a starting role in his first season with the Orange, while defensive tackle Zian Jones has gone from one of the most scrutinized players to someone who can be a threat when he is given his opportunities to come onto the field.

20. New talent:

Along with Jones and Pierce-Brewster, wide receiver Christopher Clark, running back Ashton Broyld, and kicker Ryan Norton have also shown some positive signs on potentially bright futures.

Clark, another junior college transfer, has not been an every down option, rotateing in and out of gameplay. However, even in games where he amounts one catch, Clark has helped to continue drives for the Orange and aid in scoring.

Broyld was used for a few plays, a drive, or sometimes not at all. But, his talent should not be understated. He has good vision and moves his body well when navigating through defenders. He is long and has illustrated his strength when opponents have attempted to tackle him.

Norton has been the kickoff specialist all season long. He has provided Syracuse's special teams with the opportunity to keep their opponents by their own goal-line to start drives and could be a long field goal possibility for the future.

21. Backup plan:

The Syracuse football staff had their starters, but decided to utilize even more of their roster on a regular basis.

On offense, Smith and Gulley have taken turns each game, with Moore and Broyld mixing in at times.

In the passing game, coach Rob Moore has given opportunities to Lemon, Sales, Clark, Jarrod West, Beckett Wales, and David Stevens, showing their depth.

On defense, defensive line coach Tim Daoust has attempted many different combinations, with players like defensive ends Zian Jones and Robert Welsh providing quality time when their numbers are called.

In the secondary, Ritchy Desir and Durell Eskridge have been given opportunities at safety despite playing behind Shamarko Thomas and Jeremi Wilkes, getting involved in helping contain opponents with positive plays this season.

22. On a rotator:

On both offense and defense, Syracuse has committed to believing in more than merely their starters.

To their credit, substitutions this season are working out better than last season, as seen in a 7-5 regular season record as opposed to 5-7.

The more looks the staff can give the Orange, the tougher they become to play against.

Having more talent than starting roles is not a bad problem to have.

23. Advancing to the postseason:

After beginning the season with a 1-3 record, and that lone win coming against a non-FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) opponent, Syracuse's future in 2012 looked grim.

But, they responded by winning their first game in the Big East, going on to win five of their last seven games from there.

The result? Another trip to the postseason and a return to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

24. Leading the change:

Doug Marrone had a tough task when becoming the head coach of the Orange in the 2009 season.

Previous head coach Greg Robinson had not advanced to the postseason once at the helm of the Orange.

Syracuse had not accomplished a winning season since before Paul Pasqualoni and the Orange parted ways.

Now, in four seasons, Marrone has helped the Orange to two winning seasons.

He has aided the team to advance into postseason play 50% of the time.

Syracuse is playing better against ranked opponents as well as on the road.

25. Recruiting:

As the Orange continue to move in a more positive direction, the future becomes brighter.

It is easier to sell a product that has been proven to work than one in which nothing seems to be going right.

Though Marrone does not have the Orange on the national scene as of yet, he has gotten them back into the postseason.

The opportunity to play for a bowl win is more enticing that what could have been sold before Marrone.

He has helped bring in talent mentioned above and continues to in preparation in the team's move to the ACC for the 2013-14 season.

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