I should made a pun about a flood of Syracuse information or something along those lines today. For those of you not in the greater Chicago area, consider yourselves lucky. I had a sister who went to Syracuse and we used to always point out the fact that Syracuse could be guaranteed to be in the top ten and top 25 every year. The first category was days of snowfall and the second related to cloudy days. Well, right now the boats we used for Sailgate would be helpful as an entire month of seemingly non-stop rain in Wildcatland has turned in to a deluge which has major roads and sections of highways closed. There is no end in sight to the rain and quite frankly it is a mess. For some rays of sunshine we get to reminisce about our thrilling season-opening win in the air conditioner-less Carrier Dome (still one of the great sports stadium name ironies of all time) with our friend Sean Keeley, the creator and editor of the best Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (besting LTP for most obscure blog title name).
But, before we go there, for those of you who can’t get enough of Chris Collins, tune in to Chicago Tonight (tonight at 7pm ct on WTTW-11) as NU alum Ann (Werner) Kreiter (’93) hosts a 10-minute interview with the ‘Cats new coach. Spoiler alert – it was taped yesterday as Chris is slated to throw out the first pitch tonight at Wrigley (won’t happen due to rain).
Now, let’s get an in-depth first look at our home opening opponent, Syracuse, which I’ve learned will likely be a night game (yes!) on September 7.
LTP: By now you know that we’re still not done shaking from that fourth quarter in the 42-41 Northwestern win in last year’s season opener. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about the late hit call and we haven’t forgotten about the complete second half meltdown when we saw a 20+ point lead evaporate. Good news for us – Ryan Nassib is gone. Bad news for you – Venric Mark is back. You’ve got a new coach, a new conference and essentially a brave new world. Let’s start with the departure of Doug Marrone (Buffalo Bills) and entrance of new head coach Scott Shafer. What can we expect from Shafer’s brand of football?
SK: Much of the same. Shafer was Doug Marrone’s DC for all four years and his attacking defensive style won’t change one bit. Offensively, he’s handing the reigns to George McDonald, who was briefly with Arkansas and before that Miami. By all accounts, Syracuse’s offense will continue down the road it started with Marrone and Nassib. The days of option football are long behind us and expect to see Syracuse employ an offense that isn’t afraid to air it out but also looks for a QB who can do some work on the ground. Easier said than done, of course.
Shafer’s catchphrase is “hard-nosed.” That should just about sum it all up.
LTP: What has the fan reaction been to Shafer so far?
SK: Almost universally positive. There were some who wanted SU to go after a big fish but ultimately Shafer was the perfect hire. He’s been here five years now, his defense was a major part of what made the Doug Marrone Era successful, he keeps continuity and stability in a program that’s had two 8-win seasons in three years and needs to keep that momentum going and his players love him.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that Shafer probably should have been a head coach by now. He was Jim Harbaugh’s Associate HC/DC at Stanford before headed to Michigan as the DC. There, he took the fall for RichRod and had to work his way back up here at Syracuse. He was a steal for the Orange when we first got him and, we think, he’s going to do good things.
LTP: Breakdown the top-line overview of the strengths of returning players and the glaring weakness. Perhaps we just start at QB, since Ryan Nassib had such a fantastic senior season?
SK: QB is pretty much exactly what Syracuse fans are focused on as well since this will be the first time in four years that Ryan Nassib isn’t the unquestioned starter. Vying for his spot is 5th-year senior Charley Loeb (prototypical), sophomore Terrel Hunt (mobile) and John Kinder (mobile). Before the season, Loeb was the favorite, but it sounds like Hunt is pushing for the gig.
Throwing a wrench in their plans but exciting the hell out of SU fans is the news that Oklahoma QB Drew Allen is transferring. In what is a total Greg Paulus, Take II, Allen will have one season at Syracuse and can play immediately. And while Oklahoma’s tablescraps might not sound great in theory, Oklahoma’s tablescraps are still probably more talented than 80% of the QBs in the ACC.
Smart money is on Allen being under center when we play you guys, but, he’ll have to earn it first.
RB is the position SU is the most loaded at, offensively. We return everyone, Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley, who split carries, will both be back. Sophomore George Morris III is apparently challenging for some serious PT as well. And then there’s Adonis Ameen-Moore, the 240-pound beast who anchored our Tank Package last year. If we’re 1st & Goal from inside the 5, be warned.
At wide receiver, the Orange lose two studs in Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Returning we have Jarrod West, who was a solid presence last season, and have a bevy of young receivers who are all vying for spots and playing time.
The offensive line/tight ends have bad news (loss of Justin Pugh & Zach Chibane) and good news (loaded tight end position, senior center Macky MacPherson). It’s a mixed bag but if its anything like last year, they should gel as the season goes on.
The defensive line lost some talented players to graduation and off-season incidents. Keep an eye on Jay Bromley and Zian Jones. This unit has a lot of potential but remains a big question mark.
The linebackers return a solid core led by Marquis Spruill (who’ll miss a little time due to an off-field incident) and Dyshawn Davis. Linebackers has been a solid spot for SU for a few years now.
In the defensive backfield, we lose Shamarko Thomas but we’ve got a lot of up and coming guys who can fill his shows. Keon Lyn will be the team’s top DB while Wayne Morgan steps into Thomas’ hard-hitting shoes.
LTP: Dear God. I’m having Greg Paulus flashbacks. And no, not the “will he be our assistant hoops coach” kind. More of the terrorizing our secondary kind. There are connect-the-dots elements here with the a)then more reasons to hate Duke and b)can we still hate Duke now that we have Chris Collins, but I digress. For the love of God, I make my new mission the elimination of this grad student one year wonder rule. I hate it.
You’ve got Penn State in the Meadowlands to open the season and then you visit us in Evanston in week two. After being subjected to relentless speculation that this is somehow a harbinger of a departure to the B1G you go on to face a couple of patsies. Then it is your inaugural plunge in toan ACC schedule that features Florida State, renewed acquaintances with Pitt and regional rival Boston College. Describe what staring at this schedule feels like for a fan of a team that has been a backbone member of the former Big East.
SK: For some reason, Syracuse loves to schedule tough. We love a degree of difficulty, I suppose. Just like last season, I think most Syracuse fans are taking a 2-2 hope into the first four games of the season. Of course, we don’t know how good this team is and we really don’t know how good anyone else is, but it seems like the appropriate baseline.
As for ACC play, I think there are certain teams that look daunting (Florida State, Clemson), but once you get past them, it’s really not that much more crazy than the Big East. If you’re giving us a slate that includes Pitt, BC, Wake, NC State & Georgia Tech…it’s not gonna be easy to get back to a bowl, but it doesn’t sound impossible.
LTP: Top Three on-the-field reasons you’re fired up for 2013.
SK: 1. Drew Allen. Unlike Greg Paulus, who hadn’t played football in four years, Allen has four-consecutive years of college football under his belt. He simply got beat out by better QBs (Sam Bradford, Landry Jones). But if he lives up to the hype, he could be an amazing one-year wonder.
2. Opened Up Offense. The fireworks we saw coming from the Orange offense last season was fantastic. We want more. The days of Paul Pasqualoni’s ground & pound is over and dead (even at UConn now). We’ve still got enough weapons to be excited.
3. New people, new places. Unlike basketball, we’re not really leaving any memorable traditions behind by headed to the ACC. And now we get an entire season full of new faces, new stadiums, new locales…it’s going to be fun for Syracuse fans as we get acclimated to all this ACC-ness.
LTP: Top Three things that keep you up at night about this team.
1. Lost personnel. Syracuse lost a lot of stars this off-season. A three-year starting QB. An NFL-bound WR. An NFL-bound OL. An NFL-bound safety. And plenty of other quality guys. I’m excited for the talent coming up but that’s a lot of unknowns.
2. Schedule. While there are winnable games on the schedule, they are also a lot of losable games. Penn State might not be the Penn State of old but they’re still good. Northwestern on the road is a tough one. Opening up the ACC slate with Clemson sounds daunting. Road games at NC State, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Florida State will be really tough. The Orange might be a 7-5 team that ends up 5-7.
3. New system. While I have a lot of faith in Scott Shafer and his coaches, you can’t help but wonder how the team will respond as a whole the new regime. It’s not just about Shafer, almost all of his assistants are new and these are Doug Marrone’s guys. I don’t doubt they’ll give their all but sometimes there’s an inevitable dry spell in between eras.
LTP: Top two players who have yet to see much action that you’re likely banking too much on to be difference makers?
SK: Whoever The QB is – We’ve gotten pretty spoiled with the stability and stats that Ryan Nassib brought to the table. Whoever gets the starting nod has a lot to live up to and we’re not in the mood for a drop-off.
Keon Lyn – Syracuse’s secondary has been notoriously porous in recent years. We’re hoping that Keon Lyn can put it all together and become the first true shut-down corner that SU has had since…well…I’m not even sure. It’s a lot to ask.
LTP: Describe your realistic best case and realistic worst case scenario for this team.
SK: Looking over the schedule, my realistic best case scenario would be an 8-4 finish. Syracuse splits the PSU/NW games and then crushes Wagner & Tulane. I don’t see us winning the Clemson game and I think we’ll split the NC State/GT road trip. After that, we beat Wake, beat Maryland, lose at FSU, beat Pitt and beat BC. We can haz Chick-Fil-A Bowl?
Worst case, we take a rebuilding team into a schedule we’re just not ready for and take a big step back to 4-8. We lose both PSU & NW (ed: NU, Sean..NU!!!) before beating Wagner & Tulane to start 2-2. ACC play is too much to handle and we lose every game except, say, Wake Forest and BC.
LTP: And finally, what the hell does March Madness feel like?
SK: A magical fairyland where the streets are paved with gumdrops and women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.
LTP: Thanks Sean. We’ll check back with you in August as we get closer to gameday. We’re looking forward to this game, especially based on the drama from last year!
LTP Purple Pledge
Perhaps we may need to rename the LTP season ticket drive in honor of Jeff Donoghue. Jeff just added five MORE new season tickets by +1-ing his way to a grand total of 21 that he’s accumulated in his section. Jeff, bravo. We are now at 65 and 33% of our goal. Let’s keep the mojo going as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Syracuse headline a 7-game home slate that will ensure the only way you can even get a ticket to every game is through season tickets. Call 888-Go-Purple and ask for Mike Zoeller and tell him LTP sent you. Then, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll give you a shout out right here!