Like a kid playing with an Etch-a-Sketch, the Syracuse Orange have shaken things up this offseason, in an effort to wipe the slate clean following the end of the Greg Robinson era.
The man charged with picking up the pieces after a disastrous four year period is Syracuse alum, and former Orange offensive lineman Doug Marrone. Before even coaching a game, Marrone has already given the Syracuse picture an entirely new-look heading into the 2009 season.
Certainly the most high profile move that Marrone has made so far was bringing in Syracuse native, and former Duke University point guard Greg Paulus to play quarterback.
Though the addition of Paulus is considered to be Marrone’s most obvious stamp on the program to-date; it’s hardly been the only change.
A perfect example of one of these moves involves another quarterback. You know, that guy sitting on top of the depth chart that nobody has talked about since spring practice ended, Ryan Nassib.
The redshirt freshman was named the starter barely a week into spring practice, and remains listed ahead of last year’s signal caller Cam Dantley and prodigal son Greg Paulus heading into the fall session.
However the quarterback situation shakes out, other adjustments like former running back Doug Hogue’s move to linebacker, former quarterbacks Andrew Robinson, and Cody Catalina each moving to tight end will assure that this team looks significantly different and likely better this year.
The return of all-Big East wide receiver, Mike Williams is also sure to help boost an offense that was anemic without him last year. Williams was suspended for all of 2008 after an academic issue, but once he shakes off the rust, he’ll give Syracuse the homerun threat that they desperately lacked last season.
The new-look Orange have a deceptively manageable schedule this year despite having three Big 10 teams on the agenda. While the meetings with Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern will be tough, Doug Marrone’s squad will benefit from the Big East looking at a rebuilding season as well as playing two-thirds of their games in the friendly confines of the Dome.
Sept. 5 Minnesota—The Gophers got off to a good start last season, winning seven of their first eight games, but it all turned out to be smoke and mirrors. Five of those wins were against unimpressive opponents Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, Florida Atlantic, and Indiana. Minnesota then capsized losing their last five games including a 55-0 drubbing at home against Iowa.
Prediction: There is excitement around the Syracuse football program again, and the Dome should be full of fans excited to see the beginning of the Doug Marrone era. The crowd helps them start on a high note in week one 1-0 (0-0).
Sept. 12 @Penn State—The defending Big 10 champs host the Orange this year, after crushing Syracuse 55-13 in the Dome last season. The Nittany Lions have lost some talent, but it probably won’t matter much. Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster are back and Penn State has more than enough talent surrounding them to deal with Syracuse.
Prediction: Even being at Happy Valley, this game may be slightly more competitive than last year’s. Penn State still wins by at least three touchdowns though 1-1 (0-0).
Sept. 19 Northwestern—Another rematch against a Big 10 foe, this time against a team that they were a little more competitive with. The Wildcats won 30-10 last year at home, but the Orange were in it for the first three quarters of the game. The Wildcats might take a step back this year without quarterback C.J. Bacher and tailback Tyrell Sutton.
Prediction: On paper, this looks like a winnable game, but Syracuse may not have closed the talent gap enough to beat the Wildcats this year 1-2 (0-0).
Sept. 26 Maine—Quite possibly the only truly safe pick for a win this year, Syracuse will host this FCS opponent after three tough games. This one will be much easier in comparison.
Prediction: No sense worrying about this one too much. Even Greg Robinson was able to handle an FCS school last year (Northeastern). Orange will win comfortably 2-2 (0-0).
Oct. 3 South Florida—The Orange will kick off their Big East schedule at home against a team they’ve never beaten (0-4). Matt Grothe is back, and the Bulls defense looks very good.
Prediction: No reason to think things are going to change yet. South Florida continues their unbeaten streak against Syracuse, winning by at least double digits 2-3 (0-1).
Oct. 10 West Virginia—Many in the Big East will be glad to see Pat White finally gone, but in Syracuse’s case it won’t matter. The Orange had the opportunity to face the Mountaineers sans Pat White last year, and they lost in Morgantown 17-6.
Prediction: With plenty of starting experience under his belt, Jarret Brown will perform better this time around. West Virginia will win, but it could be close for a second straight year 2-4 (0-2).
Oct. 24 Akron—While it wasn’t announced until nearly the end of the season, losing to Akron in embarrassing fashion at home may have been the straw that broke Greg Robinson’s back last year. The Zips embarrassed Syracuse’s defense, winning 42-28.
Prediction: With a bye week to prepare, Doug Marrone will not suffer the same fate as his predecessor. The Orange defense improved significantly as last season went on, and they’ll keep the Zips under control this time around. Syracuse wins by at least double digits 3-4 (0-2).
Oct. 31 Cincinnati—The defending Big East champs brought Syracuse back down to reality last year after their upset at Notre Dame. However, they lose 10 of 11 starters on defense and could be vulnerable this year.
Prediction: Syracuse will find scoring easier against Cincinnati this year, but they won’t be able to stop Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard from lighting up the scoreboard. Cincinnati wins this one fairly easily 3-5 (0-3).
Nov. 7 @Pittsburgh—Pittsburgh is among the favorites to win this league this year, but Syracuse was able to take a lead into the fourth quarter against the Panthers last season before succumbing late. They lose LeSean McCoy, but they’ll boast one of the best defenses in the league.
Prediction: If Syracuse can score, they can win this one. However, I just don’t see them moving the ball consistently enough on that defense. They’ll lose in what will probably be a low scoring affair 3-6 (0-4).
Nov. 11 @Louisville—The Orange have beaten Louisville for their lone Big East win in each of the past two seasons. Things look bad for the ‘Ville, they look like they’ll take another step back this year.
Prediction: Syracuse continues to confound Louisville fans, winning for a third straight year, possibly giving Steve Kragthorpe one last kick as he heads out the door in Louisville 4-6 (1-4).
Nov. 21 Rutgers—Syracuse hosts the Knights in the last home game of the season. Hopefully, they’ll be pumped up to end the season on a high note for this one. Rutgers has a great offensive line and a solid defense, but has question marks all over the field on offense with no Mike Teel, Kenny Britt or Tiquan Underwood this season.
Prediction: In his first year, Marrone does something Greg Robinson was never able to do; win two Big East games in a season. The Orange win a close one over the Knights 5-6 (2-4).
Nov. 28 UConn—The Huskies are going to have a new look offense this year, led by Notre Dame transfer quarterback Zach Frazer. They lose the nation’s leading rusher from 2008, Donald Brown but have talented backs to ease the loss.
Prediction: Traveling to Connecticut has not been fun for Syracuse. They’ve lost in their previous two trips by a combined total of 56-14. It should be a better game this time, but Syracuse will fall one win short of bowl eligibility with a loss in the final week 5-7 (2-5).