Following its traditional opening day bloodbath, Penn State will turn its claws of destruction to the visiting Syracuse Orange. The old rivals—arguably the hottest eastern rivalry outside of PSU-Pitt—met last year for the first time since 1992. Although the series renewal was signed when Syracuse was coming off a 10-2 season, this should be as much of a one-sided contest as it was in 2008. But what do we really know about the 2009 Syracuse Orange? Let's find out, in today's First Look.
Channeling the 'Cuse
If you just started watching football the last few seasons, it would seem absurd to find out Syracuse is No. 14 all-time in total wins (674-472-49). But the recent performance on the field is a far cry from what Orange fans are used to. Prior to the disaster known as Greg Robinson (10-37, '05-'08), there was Paul Pasqualoni ('91-'04) and Dick MacPherson ('81-'90), who combined to go 173-107-5, including five 10-win seasons, and an undefeated run (11-0-1) in 1987.
But now the program is at the bottom of the bottom... of the bottom. In comes former-Orangeman (the name changed to just "Orange" a few seasons ago) Doug Marrone. Marrone was a captain and three-year letterman at Syracuse, playing from 1983-1985 on the offensive line. He's been a successful position coach (OL/TE) at the college and pro levels, and led a pretty good offensive attack as the New Orleans Saints' OC ('06-'08).
Th Orange went defense with Robinson. Now, it's time to try offense with Marrone.
Looking for 44
Although the surrounding cast was far from competitive on a national scale, Orange running back Curtis Brinkley had a quietly outstanding season in 2008, rushing for 1,164 yards and seven scores. The problem for Syracuse, is that he's gone this year. All is not lost, though, as junior Delone Carter steps in after leading the team in '07 with 713. He's been banged up since, but should be healthy this year.
If the offensive line (lost 2/5 from '08) can come together, the running game could be a focal point for this year's offense. Redshirt frosh Ryan Nassib will have some decent targets to throw to, as six of the top seven receivers return from '08, and add in '07 all-Big East performer Mike Williams after his suspension all last year.
Joe Paterno's idea for Syracuse to consider moving over to the Big Ten might not be all that far-fetched. The Orange play three Big Ten teams (Minnesota 9/5, @PSU 9/12, Northwestern 9/19) on this year's schedule. The schedule sets itself up to be a real pain in the butt for Syracuse, with the possibility of playing as many as nine bowl-bound teams. However, Syracuse only plays four road games, and some of the toughest competition comes to the Carrier Dome.
The record may not look good once December rolls around, but remember that Syracuse is taking on easily the toughest schedule of any Big East member. Orange opponents went 98-57 in '08, and went 4-5 in bowl games. The goal this year, with this schedule, should be to be competitive in as many games as possible. Four wins would be admirable.
From enemy territory:
I asked Brian Harrison, Orange::44 blogger, about the 2009 team. He was a bit more excited than I'd expected, but looking at this year's team, he makes a good point: "Nowhere to go but up."
"While Syracuse is most assuredly in a rebuilding year with a coach that can do the job, this season we take comfort in knowing actual improvement will be seen as there is a different guy with the headset on," Harrison said.
Yet, Harrison said Robinson's recruiting successes (or lack of) gives Marrone a lot of work to do, on and off the field.
"Syracuse is still just not as talented as they should be. They are getting better, but Syracuse is still burdened with the majority of poorly recruited players that [name redacted] left us," he told me.
And remember when Syracuse was known for "The Loud House?" Well, Harrison thinks with the eight home games coming this season and growing enthusiasm around Marrone, ticket sales should be up this season.
"This means that at least the hostile away crowd factor will not be a factor for the majority of Syracuse’s games," Harrison said about the schedule. "Syracuse could actually see some decent crowds during the bigger games this season as well. Season ticket holders have vastly dwindled the past few years, but they should increase this season for the first time in a while. Syracuse football fans, despite having bad seasons lately, are knowledgeable football fans and like supporting their team, especially the locals. The Carrier Dome, one of the best on-campus facilities in the nation, could again be friendly confines for the home team and become “The Loud House” again."
For more on the Syracuse Orange:
2009 Syracuse Schedule
Syracuse Spring Game Review
First Look '08: Syracuse Orange