Roughly a month from now, the Syracuse Orange are going to take to the practice fields outside Manley Field House just as they do every summer.
Once again, returning players will be joined by the incoming freshmen and the full roster will finally get to work competing for the right to step out onto the field first when the season begins on September 4th in Akron.
During camp, the players will offer friendly quotes to the media, espousing the virtues of competition and doing “whatever’s best for the team,” as if they were reading from some manual of approved statements for dealing with journalists.
Perhaps I’m just a cynic, but I occasionally have trouble buying the sincerity of those statements.
I prefer to think that the competition for starting jobs will be heated, with each individual waging a private war against the other players at his respective position. As is often the case in football, no position battle will shape Syracuse’s season as dramatically as the one at quarterback, where Ryan Nassib sits tentatively atop the depth chart.
There will be no position that requires a fiery, “me against the world” mentality more, either.
I truly hope that Nassib has that mindset, because I believe that unlike last season, he’s going to hold onto the starting job following fall practice. Hopefully losing the job to Paulus last year instilled a greater sense of urgency to be at the top of his game.
If Nassib does hold on to the top spot, he might just find that winning the job is the easy part though. He’s going to be in a very difficult spot trying to lead a team that suddenly has a lot of expectations to live up to.
Obviously I'm not talking about national expectations though. It’s safe to say that Syracuse football will continue to be ridiculed by the media and opposing fans until they start winning some games.
However, the Orange fans who’ve stuck by the team through the dark times saw a team last season that looked completely different than the clumsy, mismanaged, and mismatched Orange teams of the Greg Robinson era. They saw a well-coached squad that looked like a legitimate football team.
Syracuse showcased a defense that was dominant at times and a group of young players that hinted at future greatness. Not only that, but their offensive line, which for so long has been the Orange’s most notable weakness, turned into a respectable looking unit.
Last season, Orange fans could only hope to see signs of improvement in year one of Doug Marrone’s massive rebuilding project. In 2010 though, there’s one phrase being uttered with utmost sincerity regarding this team that has seemed like nothing more than a punch line in a bad joke the last few years.
That phrase: Bowl Game.
The burden of expectation always falls on one player more than any other and that’s the starting quarterback. You can bet that the moment the fans find some reason to be displeased with Nassib, they’ll let him hear it, the same way they viciously booed Greg Paulus last season.
Syracuse is a town that loves the backup, whether it’s on the gridiron or on the hardwood where fans love to gripe about whether Jim Boeheim should utilize his bench more. When Nassib inevitably struggles at some point, the same fans that were leading the charge for him to take over last year will begin looking to the sidelines for a new champion.
To make things tougher (for Nassib, at least) there might actually be a couple viable options standing by the sideline, carrying clipboards and anxiously waiting for an opportunity.
Redshirt freshman Charley Loeb struggled early in the spring, but came on strong late and really torched the second-string defense in the Spring Game. Then there are two hyped freshmen Jonny Miller and John Kinder. With fall practices closed to the public, nobody will actually see these two signal callers, but everyone will speculate about them.
This season has the potential to be the point where Syracuse takes a giant leap back towards its spot as one of the powers of Eastern football and the fans are anxious as hell to get back to that. It’s going to be tough to live up to that hope, but Nassib does have a few things going for him.
Though it may have seemed like a setback at the time, Nassib may have been the single greatest beneficiary of the “Greg Paulus Experiment.” Rather than being tossed to the wolves as a redshirt freshman, he had a season to get his feet wet and work on his game while Paulus took the majority of the beatings.
Being brought along too quickly can have serious repercussions, as Orange fans should know after witnessing the tragic downfall of Andrew Robinson just a few years ago.
If Nassib does take over this season, he’ll step into the starter role with experience, an offensive line with a season’s worth of Doug Marrone’s tutelage under their belt, a stable of experienced running backs, and a potentially all-Big East caliber receiver to throw to in Alec Lemon.
Fall camp is only a month away, and a considerable number of questions should be answered then. Regardless of how things shake out, it’s wonderful to know that college football is finally on the horizon. Here’s hoping it will be a special season in Syracuse.
I think we’ve waited long enough.
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