Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Leave it better than you found it
We tend to think of teams as how they existed when we were 10. It doesn't make sense when those teams aren't good, nor does it make sense when teams that were once terrible actually manage to succeed. Syracuse football is a litmus test in this regard. Or at least, it's an age test. If you came of age in the 1950s or 1960s, Syracuse was the stalwart eastern program, pocketing a national title in 1959, going more than two decades without a losing record, and producing ridiculous talents like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka.
If you were 10 some time in the 1970s, Syracuse had ceded its eastern edge to Penn State and only once finished with a record better than 6-5 from 1971 to 1984. You know the Orange are probably capable of making some noise, but you don't consider it a birthright.
If you, like I did, were 10 in the late-1980s or 1990s, you remember Don McPherson, Donovan McNabb, Moose Johnston, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney, and the other greats of the Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni eras. Syracuse finished in the top 25 nine times in 15 years, damn near won the national title in 1987, and attended what are now known as BCS bowls four times. This was the second-best era in Syracuse's history and proved that, with the right coach and situation, Syracuse can very much matter in college football.
If you were 10 in the 2000s, however, in the death rattle of the Pasqualoni era or (gag) in the Greg Robinson era, you see no birthright. You see little hope for greatness. You see an eastern school suffering as college football's talent moves south. Pasqualoni went 16-20 from 2002-04, which wasn't good but was quite a bit better than Robinson (10-37 from 2005-08).
Doug Marrone inherited a program in its worst state since either the mid-1970s (3-8 or worse four times between 1973-78) or the 1940s. The Carrier Dome was no longer known as cutting-edge; it was mostly just half-empty. Syracuse had won just two bowl games in 12 years and hadn't been to one at all in five. The 'Cuse hadn't spent a week in the top 10 since 1996. This was not your father's or grandfather's Syracuse.
(And that 2007 team was just egregiously awful, one that made you forget that this was once a quality program.)
It still isn't your father's anything, of course. But it's a respectable brand again. That's something. Syracuse won the Pinstripe Bowl in both 2010 and 2012 and played at a top-40 level last year. In Marrone's four-season tenure, the Orange improved three times. They had three players drafted in the first four rounds of the 2013 draft. The Syracuse name was actually a name again. That alone is an impressive accomplishment.
2. A good time to jump
In taking the Buffalo Bills job, Marrone left the Syracuse program earlier than expected. But the timing of his departure could be worse for both parties. For Marrone, his team was due a step backwards in 2013, replacing the quarterback, two best receivers, and two best linemen from a resurgent offense, not to mention a good chunk of the defensive line. Marrone was selling high before his stock ticked down a bit, at least temporarily.
One could argue that the departure came at a decent time for Syracuse, too, at least if Marrone had to leave at all. Recruiting was not really picking up, and as mentioned, the Orange were most likely due a rankings drop this fall. Marrone built an interesting team with an outstanding offensive line and an aggressive defense, and he certainly could have continued to slowly build upstate, but this wasn't the worst time in the world for a change to happen ... if his replacement, Scott Shafer, is up to the task, anyway. (Kind of an important detail there.)
Shafer has hired an intriguing staff and is attempting to raise Syracuse's recruiting game while maintaining its culture of aggression. If the program had to lose a solid leader, now wasn't the worst time.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 37|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Northwestern||41-42||L||34.5 - 24.3||W|
|8-Sep||vs. USC||29-42||L||28.8 - 31.6||L|
|15-Sep||Stony Brook||28-17||W||31.9 - 27.5||W|
|22-Sep||at Minnesota||10-17||L||26.6 - 27.6||L|
|5-Oct||Pittsburgh||14-13||W||30.4 - 21.2||W|
|13-Oct||at Rutgers||15-23||L||37.5 - 21.0||W|
|19-Oct||Connecticut||40-10||W||50.9 - 29.5||W|
|27-Oct||at South Florida||37-36||W||37.9 - 39.8||L|
|3-Nov||at Cincinnati||24-35||L||30.9 - 24.9||W|
|10-Nov||Louisville||45-26||W||40.1 - 34.5||W|
|17-Nov||at Missouri||31-27||W||35.1 - 44.4||L|
|23-Nov||at Temple||38-20||W||29.0 - 32.7||L|
|29-Dec||West Virginia||38-14||W||25.8 - 15.9||W|
|Points Per Game||30.0||55||24.8||47|
|Adj. Points Per Game||33.8||28||28.8||69|
3. Moving in unison
When you start 2-4 and finish 6-1, the odds are pretty good that you improved on paper as well. But while that was certainly the case for Syracuse in 2012, defensive regression stunted the effect of offensive growth. The running game gained traction, which made the passing game nearly unstoppable, but the blitzes stopped working quite as much in November. As the offensive points rose, the defensive points followed.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Syracuse 30.5, Opponent 27.8 (plus-2.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Syracuse 39.6, Opponent 23.9 (plus-15.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 35.3, Syracuse 34.6 (minus-0.7)
This doesn't matter if you keep winning like SU did, but when combined with the losses of some stars on the defensive side of the ball, there's reason to be concerned. And of course, when you lose the primary reasons for your offensive growth, that's also a concern.
|Q1 Rk||51||1st Down Rk||21|
|Q2 Rk||32||2nd Down Rk||88|
|Q3 Rk||21||3rd Down Rk||7|
4. What is GeorgeBall?
When Shafer hired George McDonald away from Arkansas, where he had just been named receivers coach, to run his offense, it was seen as a pretty big deal. McDonald has built a reputation as one of the nation's better recruiters, and he's certainly a fantastic Twitter marm. He oversaw quite a few big-play receivers at Miami. For a first-time offensive coordinator, McDonald has a quality résumé.
That's what we know. What we don't know, however, is what the hell a George McDonald offense is supposed to look like at this stage. McDonald was Bill Cubit's first offensive coordinator at Western Michigan, where he ran a spread-out, pass-happy attack. But after two years, he moved on to the first of many stints as a receivers coach: Minnesota in 2007-08, Cleveland Browns in 2009-10, Miami in 2011-12. One assumes he likes to pass. But the more he wants to pass, the less his plans will jive with the remains of the Syracuse offense.
Ryan Nassib is now a New York Giant, and Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon, one of the nation's more prolific (1,937 receiving yards, 9.4 per target) and frequently targeted (46 percent of Syracuse's passes were thrown in their direction) duos, are also gone. Only one returning wideout was targeted more than 20 times last year, and returning quarterbacks combined to throw one pass.
Meanwhile, running backs Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, who combined for 2,001 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, return. They'll be running behind a line that was awesome but must replace both members of a stalwart left side. What McDonald wants to do and what he's able to do in 2013 could be at odds, especially if dual-threat sophomore Terrel Hunt holds onto the starting job he appeared to win in the spring.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Charley Loeb||6'4, 220||Sr.||** (5.4)||1||1||8||100.0%||0||0||0||0.0%||8.0|
|Terrel Hunt||6'3, 219||So.||*** (5.5)|
|John Kinder||6'2, 187||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jerome Smith||RB||6'0, 226||Jr.||*** (5.5)||228||1,176||5.2||4.0||3||+10.4|
|Prince-Tyson Gulley||RB||5'10, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||157||825||5.3||5.1||9||+12.1|
|Ashton Broyld||HB||6'4, 221||So.||*** (5.5)||36||171||4.8||2.8||1||+1.2|
|Adonis Ameen-Moore||FB||5'11, 239||Jr.||*** (5.6)||30||108||3.6||2.9||5||-1.8|
|George Morris II||RB||6'0, 203||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jarrod West||WR-X||6'2, 203||Jr.||*** (5.5)||73||43||598||58.9%||8.2||16.3%||63.0%||8.3||80.2|
|Beckett Wales||TE||6'3, 225||Sr.||** (5.4)||51||35||389||68.6%||7.6||11.4%||51.0%||8.0||52.2|
|Prince-Tyson Gulley||RB||5'10, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||47||33||282||70.2%||6.0||10.5%||48.9%||6.0||37.8|
|Christopher Clark||WR-Z||5'11, 160||Sr.||NR||19||11||122||57.9%||6.4||4.2%||63.2%||6.3||16.4|
|Jerome Smith||RB||6'0, 226||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||8||80||61.5%||6.2||2.9%||61.5%||6.3||10.7|
|Jeremiah Kobena||WR-X||6'0, 182||Jr.||*** (5.6)||10||6||146||60.0%||14.6||2.2%||40.0%||17.7||19.6|
|Ashton Broyld||HB||6'4, 221||So.||*** (5.5)||9||7||53||77.8%||5.9||2.0%||88.9%||4.0||7.1|
|Adrian Flemming||WR-Z||6'3, 200||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Josh Parris||TE||6'2, 255||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ben Lewis||WR-X||6'2, 194||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Alvin Cornelius||WR-Z||6'1, 187||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
5. Hope you're ready, Jarrod
Sales and Lemon got the attention, and justifiably so, but Jarrod West was a quality No. 3 option, basically replicating Sales' profile (59 percent catch rate, 13.9 yards per catch). He caught six passes for 94 yards versus USC and caught seven for 98 and a score versus South Florida. If he's ready for the step up to the No. 1 role, he could see a ton of passes in 2013.
And if he's not, it's not immediately clear who will. Junior Jeremiah Kobena looked interesting in a tiny role, but players like redshirt freshmen Ben Lewis and Alvin Cornelius, along with a load of tight ends and H-backs (Beckett Wales, former quarterback Ashton Broyld), will need to make some sort of impact to take heat off of West.
|Justin Pugh||LT||34 career starts; 2012 1st All-Big East|
|Zack Chibane||LG||38 career starts|
|Macky MacPherson||C||6'2, 290||Sr.||** (5.3)||25 career starts|
|Sean Hickey||LT||6'5, 291||Jr.||** (5.2)||13 career starts|
|Rob Trudo||LG||6'3, 284||So.||** (5.4)||9 career starts|
|Ivan Foy||RT||6'4, 313||So.||** (5.2)||4 career starts|
|Lou Alexander||RT||4 career starts|
|Andrew Phillips||LT||1 career start|
|Daniel Anyaegbunam||RT||6'3, 290||Sr.||NR|
|Nick Robinson||RG||6'5, 297||So.||** (5.2)|
|Kyle Knapp||LT||6'4, 284||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jason Emerich||C||6'3, 280||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Omari Palmer||LG||6'2, 309||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|John Miller||RG||6'2, 308||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Michael Lasker||OL||6'4, 324||So.||NR|
|Kendall Moore||OL||6'5, 265||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jon Burton||RT||6'6, 317||Fr.||** (5.3)|
6. The line did its job
How much of an impact did two three-year starters, tackle (and first-round pick) Justin Pugh and guard Zack Chibane, have on Syracuse's success last year? Because in terms of line stats, Syracuse's line was responsible for quite a bit of the offense's success. On both runs and passes, the line kept defenders out of the backfield all season, giving a talented group of skill position players more than enough chance to thrive.
The relationship worked both ways -- Ryan Nassib was a pretty quick decision-maker, and neither Jerome Smith nor Prince-Tyson Gulley needed much of a crease to get to the second level of the defense -- but the line more than did its job (despite pretty awful recruiting rankings, no less). The return of four players with starting experience (51 career starts) will help, but will it offset the loss of two veterans?
|Q1 Rk||78||1st Down Rk||100|
|Q2 Rk||59||2nd Down Rk||41|
|Q3 Rk||67||3rd Down Rk||39|
7. Be! Aggressive! Be, be! Aggressive!
It is a Scott Shafer watchword. You can't read a paragraph's worth of quotes from the new head man (and last year's defensive coordinator) without "aggressive" working its way into the conversation. And while last year's defense wasn't that great, it was certainly hostile. Nine players recorded at least 4.5 tackles for loss, six recorded at least 8.5.
There were plenty of breakdowns along the way, but Syracuse knew how to get after it. And one has to assume that will continue to be the way of life for the Orange.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jay Bromley||DT||6'4, 285||Sr.||NR||13||27.5||4.0%||5.5||2.5||0||1||0||0|
|Micah Robinson||DE||6'4, 265||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||14.0||2.0%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Eric Crume||NT||6'0, 305||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||13.0||1.9%||2||0||0||0||1||1|
|Zian Jones||NT||6'4, 311||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||6.5||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Welsh||DE||6'3, 256||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||3.5||0.5%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Raymon||DT||6'5, 323||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Ron Thompson||DE||6'4, 268||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Marcus Coleman||DT||6'1, 266||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Wayne Williams||DT||6'5, 335||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Trevon Trejo||DE||6'5, 240||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Tyler Marona||DE||6'4, 258||So.||NR|
8. Do the Orange have the pieces to be aggressive?
Syracuse was particularly good at stuffing short-yardage situations and slicing into the backfield against the run. The pass was solid, too, but negative plays against the run were a Syracuse strength. Of course, if the runner got beyond the line, bad things tended to happen.
So how much will this change in 2013? The line must replace three of four starters, and while players like Micah Robinson and Eric Crume produced a couple of nice plays amid their minimal playing time, they still got minimal playing time. The rotation wasn't huge, and now it's been hit hard. Some JUCO transfers could help out, but it's hard to assume they'll immediately play a role. There is certainly solid size here, but will Shafer and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough be able to count on the same level of negative plays? And if the defense isn't making as many plays, will it manage to allow fewer, too?
If the line can hold up, though, the linebackers could once again do quite a bit of damage. Dyshawn Davis and Marquis Spruill are barely bigger than safeties, but they fulfilled Shafer's need for speed last year, combining for 23 tackles for loss, mostly against the run, in 2012. They return, as does pass rush missile Cameron Lynch. If one of these three gets hurt, the experience falls off drastically (this wasn't a deep unit last year, and in terms of experience, it isn't in 2013 either), but the starters are potentially awesome. That's something.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dyshawn Davis||WLB||6'2, 220||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||56.5||8.1%||14||1||1||2||0||2|
|Marquis Spruill||MLB||6'1, 224||Sr.||**** (5.8)||13||51.0||7.3%||9||2||0||1||0||0|
|Cameron Lynch||SLB||5'11, 230||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||35.0||5.0%||4.5||4||0||1||1||1|
|Lewellyn Coker||SLB||6'1, 230||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Oliver Vigille||WLB||6'2, 220||So.||*** (5.5)||13||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Washington||MLB||6'1, 218||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Luke Arciniega||MLB||6'2, 241||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Josh Kirkland||LB||6'2, 204||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jeremi Wilkes||FS||5'9, 179||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||54.0||7.8%||0.5||0||1||3||1||0|
|Keon Lyn||CB||6'1, 201||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||41.0||5.9%||3||0||3||7||1||0|
|Ri'Shard Anderson||CB||6'0, 190||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||37.0||5.3%||1||0||1||2||0||0|
|Durell Eskridge||SS||6'3, 207||So.||*** (5.5)||13||31.0||4.5%||3||2||0||3||1||1|
|Brandon Reddish||CB||5'11, 186||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||29.5||4.2%||4.5||1||1||2||2||0|
|Ritchy Desir||SS||5'11, 187||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||20.5||2.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Wayne Morgan||FS||5'10, 197||So.||*** (5.7)||13||10.5||1.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jaston George||CB||5'10, 175||So.||** (5.3)||11||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Nassib||CB||5'9, 180||Sr.||NR||12||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Julian Whigham||CB||6'1, 187||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Darius Kelly||DB||5'10, 190||Jr.||** (5.4)|
9. Experience isn't always a good thing, Part 101
Syracuse had a top-40 pass rush but ranked just 72nd in Passing S&P+. That tells you the secondary might have had some issues. The linebackers didn't make a ton of plays against the pass, and aside from corner Keon Lyn (10 passes defensed), nobody in the secondary was very successfully aggressive overall. Shafer utilized some tight coverage, which resulted in quite a few tackles for loss -- Lyn had three, Brandon Reddish had 4.5 -- but in all, the misses were as big as the hits for this defense.
In this way, the fact that Syracuse returns almost everybody in the secondary isn't necessarily a good thing. Some new blood might be nice, and while reasonably highly touted understudies like Wayne Morgan and Ritchy Desir will play a larger role this year, the rotation is pretty much set unless a JUCO transfer like Darius Kelly can crack the rotation. There could be some marginal year-to-year development here, but what we saw last year is approximately what we'll see this year.
|Jonathan Fisher||6'1, 209||Jr.||50||39.2||2||15||17||64.0%|
|Riley Dixon||6'5, 208||So.||3||36.3||2||0||0||0.0%|
|Ryan Norton||5'11, 179||So.||73||61.2||0||0.0%|
|Ross Krautman||5'7, 160||Sr.||43-43||12-16||75.0%||3-7||42.9%|
|Jeremiah Kobena||KR||6'0, 182||Jr.||21||19.7||0|
|Steve Rene||KR||5'7, 187||Sr.||9||21.4||0|
|Ritchy Desir||PR||5'11, 187||Jr.||20||5.3||0|
|Steve Rene||PR||5'7, 187||Sr.||8||0.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||87|
|Field Goal Pct||82|
|Kick Returns Avg||108|
|Punt Returns Avg||112|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|31-Aug||vs. Penn State||24|
|12-Oct||at N.C. State||61|
|19-Oct||at Georgia Tech||32|
|16-Nov||at Florida State||19|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||68|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||72|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -2.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. This feels right
It's hard to know what to make of this team. There are potential stars at running back and linebacker, and there is at least one stellar receiver in the rotation, but the quarterback position is a question mark, the offensive line loses its two best players, the defensive line got thinned out quite a bit, and the secondary is still a bit of a mystery. (The special teams unit is experienced but wasn't that good last year, either.)
I do know this, though: This schedule feels good. Start with Penn State at MetLife Stadium, end with Pitt and Boston College? That feels like a Syracuse schedule. There is certainly a pair marquee games (Clemson, at Florida State), but the schedule is not only sensible, but navigable. Six 2013 opponents are projected worse than 60th, and Syracuse could be favorite in every home game but one (Clemson).
The odds of a third bowl in four years are pretty good. For some who grew up with Syracuse setting a much higher bar, that might not seem like any great shakes. But for the Syracuse of the last decade, that's not a bad place to be. Doug Marrone left the 'Cuse job better than he found it, and his replacement could end up winning a few games in his first season.