2012 Record: 8-5 (5-2 in Big East)
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 new Era Pinstripe Bowl: beat WVU 38-14
Stadium: Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY (capacity = 50,000)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 51st out of 69 BCS teams
2013 Schedule Link
Out of Conference: 8/31 vs Penn St, 9/7 at Northwestern, 9/14 vs Wagner, 9/21 vs Tulane
Toughest Home Game: 10/5 vs Clemson
Toughest Road Games: 11/16 at FSU, 10/19 at Georgia Tech
2012 Statistics Link
Stat to Fear: scored on just 81.36% of red zone trips (7th in Big East)
Stats to Cheer: converted on 49.3% of third downs (2nd in Big East), had 223 plays of 10 or more yards (1st in Big East)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 27th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Special Teams: 2
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Dyshawn Davis (71 tackles), LB Marquis Spruill (64 tackles), FS Jeremi Wilkes (63 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Jerome Smith (1176 yds rush, 5.16 ypc), RB Prince-Tyson Gulley (825 yds rush, 5.25 ypc, 9 TD, 33 rec), WR Jarrod West (43 rec), TE Beckett Wales (35 rec)
CFBZ: Scott Shafer was promoted from DC to HC this past off-season. What are your thoughts on the hire?
Dan Lyons: I really like the hire. When Marrone took the Buffalo job there were a lot of names thrown around... I really liked the idea of Bob Diaco from Notre Dame and others brought up a number of other names, but I'm pretty sure Shafer was on almost everyone's short list. He has been extremely popular since taking over the defensive coordinator job in 2009, and the results on the field have been quite good. His units constantly attack, make big plays, and play an exciting brand of football, and the hope with Shafer as head coach is that mentality will translate to the team as a whole. He's very candid and excitable, the players seem to absolutely love him, and he's really connected with the Syracuse and central New York community in a way that even Marrone, who is a Syracuse alumnus, struggled to at times.
Obviously, it's easy to buy into a hire before he coaches a game, but I think that his familiarity with the program and his record here at Syracuse will lend to some immediate and long turn success, and will help bridge the program into the ACC.
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest opportunities/weaknesses on this team?
Dan Lyons: Quarterback is the obvious answer here, though I would call it more of an unknown than an outright weakness. As of today, third year sophomore Terrel Hunt is in the lead for the job, but most expect that it will ultimately go to senior Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, who spent his time as a Sooner behind Sam Bradford and Landry Jones. While Hunt has been impressive since spring ball, and could probably start right now, the word on Allen is that he just has an absolute cannon of an arm that the other QBs can't quite match.
Wide receiver is also a question, as Syracuse looks to replace Alec Lemon, who had one of the great seasons in school history last year, and Marcus Sales who was a bona fide deep threat. Jarrod West steps up to the top spot after hauling in 43 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns. After him, however, there is a lot of uncertainty, although there are a number of interesting pieces that offensive coordinator George McDonald has to play with. Senior Adrian Flemming has never quite broken into the rotation, but has impressed in practice at times over the last few years, and brings a 6'6" frame to the table. Junior Jeremiah Kobena impressed early last year with two touchdown catches in the opener against Northwestern before losing a number of games to injury. Others who should get looks are speedy senior Christopher Clark, redshirt freshman Alvin Cornelius, and jack of all trades sophomore Ashton Broyld, who came to Syracuse as a quarterback but was quickly shifted to H-Back. He will likely see time at both receiver and running back, and may also take some direct snaps, and 6'4", 221 lbs, he can provide a big mismatch if he gets in space.
On defense, the glaring hole is at defensive end where the team looks to replace four year contributor Brandon Sharpe and starter Markus Pierce-Brewster, who was dismissed from the team during the offseason. Juniors Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh are both listed as starters and have been decent in limited time. Converted tight end Ron Thompson was one of the team's biggest recruits a few years ago, and moves over to defense after a hip injury sidelined him last year... his impact is a big question mark at this point, but apparently Shafer lusted over him as a defensive end when Syracuse was trying to land him out of high school. Big Iowa transfer John Raymon (6'5", 325) may also see time at end although he is listed as a tackle, due to his athleticism.
CFBZ: With Syracuse entering the ACC, which conference games are the fans most looking forward to?
Dan Lyons: Syracuse hosts Clemson at the Carrier Dome in their ACC opener, and that is the game most people have circled on the calendar. The team has a tough road through September with games against Penn State at MetLife Stadium, and a really tough trip to Northwestern, but the optimists among us think that Syracuse can go 4-0 heading into that match-up with a Top 10 Tigers team, and if that is the case the Dome will be about as loud as it has been since Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney roamed the field. Clemson is the favorite to win the conference and will probably be a top-10 team all season if things go right, but SU has had a penchant for the big home upset over the last few years.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Dan Lyons: One of the big themes among Syracuse fans this offseason is the lack of respect that the program has gotten, even as it has removed itself from the disastrous Greg Robinson era. While Doug Marrone's tenure had its ups and downs, he took a team that had won 10 games in four years and went 25-25 with two bowl victories and a share of a Big East crown. Despite this, many who don't follow Syracuse football seem to pencil the Orange in for the same four wins every year, even when the team seems to have some serious momentum. The most glaring example comes from the Orlando Sentinel, who ranked Syracuse 96th among all FBS teams heading to this season, and couldn't even name the two top contenders for the starting quarterback job. Losing a coach and a quarterback like Ryan Nassib is difficult, but that is the nature of college football, and with ~2000 rushing yards in the form of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley returning, as well as a largely in tact defense, there is no reason that Syracuse should not fight for a bowl berth. Back to back bowls would be a huge step for the program both on the field, and in changing the perception that exists nationally. With the talent that Syracuse has returning, six wins should be the minimum expectation this year, barring terrible injuries or other unforeseen circumstances.
Doug Marrone did an admirable job at Syracuse in his four years finishing with two bowl trips and he went out on a high note as the Cuse tied for the Big East Conference Championship last season. The Orange have promoted DC Scott Shafer to take over for Marrone. Shafer was with Marrone from the beginning so it should be a fairly seamless changeover. The defense has been a little up and down in Shafer's tenure but when they've been at their best (2010 and 2012) that has translated into the best years under Marrone's tenure. George McDonald (OC at WMU, WR coach at Minnesota and WR coach at Miami) takes over the offensive coordinator duties. McDonald, who also coached at Stanford with last years OC Nathaniel Hackett, sees his scheme as similar to the one Hackett ran last year.
On offense, Syracuse ran the ball well last year averaging 4.38 ypc and amassing 21 TDs. The Orange will be the only team in the ACC that returns a 1,000 yard rusher as senior Jerome Smith ran for 1176 yards last season. The Orange have a nice building block in the run game. The OL will lose two lynch-pins that had over 30 starts a piece but they do return four players with starting experience including three that have started nine of more games. The success or failure of this offense will come with the QB battle and if McDonald can establish a balanced attack after the losses at QB and WR.
The defense wasn't great last season but it was good and with the exception of two or three games it put the Orange in a position to win football games. The big question on this defense is replacing three out of four starters on the line. The LB corps and secondary each lose a key contributor but they should be able to build on the improvement from 2011 to 2012.
Syracuse has it tough right out of the gate with it's schedule as they must face Penn State and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks while breaking in a new OC and QB. Still, the worst case scenario for the first four games is 2-2. The conference schedule includes Clemson and FSU so that will be a challenge but they did catch a bit of a break in scheduling as they don't play UNC, Miami or Virginia Tech (three of the top four teams in the Coastal). When I look at this schedule I see the key "swing" games as the road match-ups with NC State, Georgia Tech and Maryland. All three of those teams have a lot of upside but also have a lot of question-marks. If the Orange can win two of those three games then I think they will go bowling. If they can't then odds are they will sit at home during bowl season this year. Vegas lists the over/under for Syracuse at 4.5. Seems low to me.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
C-USA- ECU, FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Tulane, UAB, UTEP, UTSA
MAC- Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, EMU, Kent State, Miami (OH), Ohio, Toledo, UMass, WMU
MWC- Air Force, Boise St, Colorado St, Fresno St, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, SDSU, SJSU, UNLV, Utah St, Wyoming