Although the Orange had a lot of questions heading into spring practice -- who will start at quarterback, how will Syracuse replace a total of 13 starters? -- there was no question about who will be the star of the show.
But coach Paul Pasqualoni is still trying to figure out the players that will be surrounding Reyes when the offense takes its first snap come fall. Four different players competed for a chance to start under center, but none of the four -- sophomore Perry Patterson, junior Xzavier Gaines, redshirt freshman Matt Hale and true freshman Joe Fields -- is considered the frontrunner.
Wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line are also spots on the offense that will have new faces. Defensively, the line was hit hardest by graduation, losing three of its four starters. The Orange have quite a few possibilities to fill the holes, but the new players will take some time to put together some chemistry.
The Orange have another tough schedule in 2004, so its imperative that the they are ready to play from the opening kickoff. Spring practice helped out a bit as Pasqualoni was able to get a good look at his options for filling all the open spaces on both sides of the ball, but there's much work to be done for Syracuse to get back to its elite status.
Safety Diamond Ferri was arrested and charged with assault following a May 24 fight in which he reportedly broke a man's nose. According to police, Ferri, 22, struggled with police officers and had to be physically subdued. Ferri was released on his own recognizance.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: RB Walter Reyes, 2nd team All-America by Lindy's; 3rd team by Street & Smith's and Athlon.
KEY GAME: Only one of the Orange's first four contests is at the Carrier Dome, which is what makes the Sept. 18 meeting with Cincinnati -- that one home game -- so important. Syracuse needs to get some wins under its belt early, and playing the Bearcats won't be an easy task, even at home. A loss could have the team reeling for the rest of the season.
THE MINDSET:Coming off a 6-6 campaign, Syracuse isn't expected to contend in the Big East, even in a league without Miami and Virginia Tech. Syracuse has an elite player in TB Walter Reyes, but he's going to need other players to step up and take some pressure off of him, especially with so many defenses keying on his every move.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Reyes gives Syracuse a running game, now it's a question of finding a passing game to balance things out. The four contenders for departed starting quarterback R.J. Anderson's spot are all fairly equal heading into the summer, so someone needs to step up and take control of the race.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The fact we've got inexperienced quarterbacks did not deter us from how much we tried to get done this spring. I think we've got as much offense in, which is going to be important for us as we work through the summer program and come back. I think the dividends will be seen. " -- Head coach Paul Pasqualoni on his team's inexperienced offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: Is there any doubt who will be the Syracuse offensive star? Barring injury, TB Walter Reyes should be one of the top ground gainers in the country in 2004. He'll need some help from his teammates to stop defenses from keying on him, but Reyes is an elite back who should get his yardage one way or another.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: Junior DE James Wyche, the only returning starter on the defensive line, could end up being an impact player up front. He recorded two sacks in the Syracuse spring game and will be counted on to disrupt the opposition's plans up front.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Xzavier Gaines was slowed a bit by a hamstring injury during spring practice, but he was still able to play.
TEMPLE INSIDE SLANT
The offense was explosive in 2003, setting school records for passing first downs and total plays, and there's no reason to think it won't be the same way in 2004. QB Walter Washington has a firm grip on the starting spot, but there are still questions to be answered around him. The loss of Zamir Cobb, the school's all-time reception leader, means there will be more balls to go around for a very deep receiving corps.
Defensively, the Owls struggled mightily in 2003, ranking 95th in the country after giving up 429.8 yards per game. Last year's defense was extremely inexperienced, though, so there should be a lot of improvement in 2004.
The Owls won't contend for a Big East crown in 2004 -- their final year in the league -- but they'll definitely be a much tougher team, especially on the defense. Wallace felt like the team made strides in the spring, which should lead to better play in the fall.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: LB Rian Wallace, third-team All-American by Street & Smith's and Athlon.
KEY GAME: The schedule is tough from the get-go, with two straight ACC opponents to open the season. A visit from Virginia on Sept. 4 will give the Owls a good idea of what to expect the rest of the season. Can the defense improve on last year's dreadful showing? And can the offense put points on the board as easily as last year behind QB Walter Washington? Many questions to be answered, and they start getting answered in this contest.
THE MINDSET: After ranking in the nation's top 20 in defense in 2001 and 2002, the Owls feel like the bad showing in 2003 is merely a hiccup and they'll return to being a dominant defense in 2004. If the offense can get it rolling early and the defense can improve, 1-11 will be a distant memory. That's the hope of coach Bobby Wallace and his squad.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: The Owls pass the ball a lot so a lot of players get a chance to catch the ball, but losing WR Zamir Cobb is going to be tough to swallow if someone isn't able to step up. Cobb was a reliable receiver who snagged 74 balls in 2003. Getting another player to step up in big situations is near the top of coach Wallace's to-do list.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"Offensively, we have a chance to be very explosive. The key is engineering our offense so that our playmakers fit together. I thought we did a good job last season of improving our turnovers and penalties and we have to continue to work on those areas." -- Head coach Bobby Wallace on his team's offensive goals.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: QB Walter Washington averaged 315 yards of total offense in the Owls' final three games of 2003, all against nationally ranked opponents. He has the capability to be a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Phil Goodman could be one of Washington's favorite targets this year, helping to pick up the slack of the departed Zamir Cobb.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: LB Rian "Goo" Wallace is a player who can get all over the field, as shown by his 148 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2003. He has a nose for the ball and he's going to need to make his presence felt this season. Senior S Lawrence Wade is another player who likes to get to the ball in a hurry and deliver a blow.
INJURY IMPACT: DE Rodney Wormley was able to get back into action in the spring after missing 2003 due to a knee injury.
WEST VIRGINIA INSIDE SLANT
"We need to be getting better in our fundamentals and technique; that's one of the most important objectives every spring, and it's where you strengthen the foundation of your program. We need to work each position to improve in those areas."
West Virginia loses just four starters on each side of the ball, so there's quite a bit of expectations -- such as a Big East championship -- following spring practice. Senior Rasheed Marshall leads an experienced offense that will be looking to build on the potency it showed in 2003.
Defensively, the Mountaineers should be even better than a year ago, when they started the season with a very inexperienced unit. This year, WVU has to find a replacement for LB Grant Wiley, a consensus All-American and Nagurski Award finalist.
Yes, there is some work to do before the season begins, but the Mountaineers are feeling pretty good after racking up a 12-2 conference mark over the past two seasons. Feeling good, but not satisfied.
PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: Ranked as high as fifth nationally by Athlon, but both Lindy's and Street & Smith's have the Mountaineers at 15th. WR Chris Henry, second-team All-America by Athlon.
KEY GAMES: West Virginia could sweep through a watered-down Big East this season, but that won't prove much on a national scale. To get full national respect -- and to have a respectable showing in the BCS standings -- the Mountaineers need to at least play well in two big non-conference games -- vs. Maryland on Sept. 18 and at Virginia Tech on Oct. 2.
THE MINDSET: The Mountaineers are going to try not to replicate last year's start, in which they began the season 1-4. Getting off to a fast start could build the confidence of the squad, which could translate to a season to remember. In this transition year for the Big East, the league will never be easier to win than right now.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: LB Grant Wiley was a major presence for the Mountaineers' defense, finishing his career as the school's all-time tackles leader. Replacing his leadership is going to be tough to do as well, but coach Rich Rodriguez feels like senior MLB Adam Lehnortt could be up to the challenge.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"I'm already looking forward to this season. There are a lot of exciting players who our fans will love to watch." -- Head coach Rich Rodriguez on his team's prospects for 2004.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: Senior QB Rasheed Marshall is hoping to go out with a bang. A threat to run the ball, Marshall improved as a passer last season, making him a true double threat for defenses. Junior WR Chris Henry was a marvel in his first season at WVU, and he'll look to build on last year's Big East Rookie of the Year campaign in 2004.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: Senior MLB Adam Lehnortt had 139 tackles and five sacks in 2003. He's will be asked to be an impact player on and off the field for the Mountaineers' defense. Junior CB Adam "Pac-Man" Jones is an explosive player who scored on fumble, interception and kick returns last season.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Adam Lehnortt was sidelined for all of spring practice following offseason shoulder surgery. He should be fully recovered for the fall.