2011 Syracuse Preview
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib
Posted May 16, 2011

There was a time not all that long ago when Syracuse was a real live player in the major bowl picture. The talent level dipped, the program went into a freefall, and the former superpower became irrelevant. No, things aren't back to where they were in the 1990s, but head coach Doug Marrone making major improvements. Check out the CFN 2011 Syracuse Preview.

Syracuse Orange

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Doug Marron
3rd year: 12-13
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 16, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Syracuse Players
1. DE Chandler Jones, Jr.
2. LT Justin Pugh, Soph.
3. FS Phillip Thomas, Jr.
4. QB Ryan Nassib, Jr.
5. FS Shamarko Thomas, Jr.
6. RB Antwon Bailey, Sr.
7. WR Van Chew, Sr.
8. LB Marquis Spruill, Soph.
9. TE Nick Provo, Sr.
10. WR Marcus Sales, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Wake Forest
Sep. 10 Rhode Island
Sep. 17 at USC
Sep. 24 Toledo
Oct. 1 Rutgers
Oct. 8 at Tulane
Oct. 22 West Virginia
Oct. 29 at Louisville
Nov. 5 at Connecticut
Nov. 11 USF
Nov. 19 Cincinnati
Dec. 3 at Pitt

The wheels are in motion. Head coach Doug Marrone's shift in culture has begun producing results in Upstate New York.

What looked like an odd choice to breathe life into a moribund Orange football program two years ago now appears to be exactly what it needed. A no-nonsense, accept-no-excuses leader, he's changed the way his kids practice, play, and conduct themselves away from the field. While the talent isn't much different than what Greg Robinson had at his disposal for four miserable seasons, the results have changed, which can be traced directly to Marrone and his assistant coaches.

Just two seasons. That's all it's taken for the new regime to eradicate the culture of losing and replace it with a postseason game for the first time in six years. And not just any bowl appearance, but a rousing victory over Kansas State in the Bronx, a boon to the school's local recruiting efforts. Oh, and Syracuse didn't back into a bonus game, finishing above .500 in Big East play and defeating South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Rutgers … away from home. The past season could not have gone much better for the Orange.

Never one to rest on his accomplishments, Marrone is forging ahead, constantly teaching and always preaching the fundamentals of being a winner. While his depth and talent remain a cut below the league's best teams, his system and philosophy have been fully implemented, which is a huge part of the blueprint. Maintaining last year's level of competitiveness, though, will come with tall hurdles. A bunch of starters from the 8-5 squad are gone, like the center, 1,000-yard rusher, and more than half of an underrated defense. Good news comes from the fact that Ryan Nassib is back at quarterback, four starting offensive linemen return, and the new Syracuse program is never going to be about an individual player. It's a team thing going forward.

While Marrone has the wind at his back, he knows that it's more of a gentle breeze that can disappear with a return to the Big East cellar. At a school that's struggled to achieve consistency over the last decade, he also realizes the importance of following up 2010 with an appropriate encore.

What to watch for on offense: Run total of the Bailey. The biggest offensive loss was Delone Carter, a 1,000-yard rusher and draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts. His successor will be senior Antwon Bailey, a solid career backup about to assume the feature role. No one doubts he can make plays as a runner and a receiver, but how will a 5-7, 197-pounder handle the punishment of being an every-down back? He's never carried the ball more than 20 times a game, a concern as he prepares to be the focal point of a ground game that's the backbone of the Orange offense.

What to watch for on defense: Pressure from the edge. Coordinator Scott Shafer and the Orange aim to dial up pressure whenever possible. However, with two new starting cornerbacks being broken in, the defense might be forced to be a little more conservative this fall. Enter veteran ends Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich, two of the defense's steadier performers. Both are returning starters, but their production has yet to match their physical ability. It's incumbent upon both to turn more of their hurries and pressures into sacks and tackles behind the line.

The team will be far better if… the receivers can collectively remain healthy for the entire year. The offense needs more pop after averaging around 14 points over the final eight regular season games. One potential source of energy is the wide receivers, which have substantial talent, yet missed a lot of time and rarely were at full-strength in 2011. If they're physically capable of playing up to their ability, the trio of Van Chew, Marcus Sales, and Alec Lemon could have a profound impact on the sputtering Orange attack.

The Schedule: SU isn't exactly extended itself early in the non-conference schedule, but Wake Forest is a BCS conference game to open up the year. Going to USC looked a lot tougher a few years ago, but it's still going to USC, while Toledo is a dangerous MAC team to watch out for. Even so, the Orange should be 4-1 before getting a week off. The Big East schedule is a bear kicking off against West Virginia and following it up with road dates against Louisville and UConn. The South Florida game is at home and there's a week off before closing out with Pitt.

Best offensive player: Sophomore LT Justin Pugh. No Syracuse player has grown more in one year than Pugh, who earned a spot on the All-Big East second team in his first year as a starter. Far more nimble than expected for a 6-6, 299-pound, he protects the passer and moves his feet as if he plans on getting paid to play when his college career is over. Playing on the staff of former Orange offensive lineman Doug Marrone will only help his progression over the next couple of years.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Chandler Jones. Only at the halfway point of his career, Jones is on his way to becoming one of the Big East's better pass rushers. Despite modest numbers, 9.5 stops for loss and four sacks, league voters recognized his ability and voted him to the all-conference second team. Quick off the snap, he has the long arms and legs to beat opposing tackles around the edge. Once he hones his skills and improves at finishing plays, his numbers are capable of doubling this fall.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore C Macky MacPherson. The lone new starter up front for the Orange, he'll try to keep the offensive line meshing from the pivot. Looking a little more like a fullback than a lineman at 6-2 and 265 pounds, it's imperative that he holds up at the point of attack and avoids being the weak link. This group has the potential to be Syracuse's best in years in the trenches, but only if it has a center it can count on throughout the year.

The season will be a success if ... the Orange return to the postseason. Anything less than six and another bowl will be like letting the air out of a balloon. There's a palpable feeling of momentum around the Carrier Dome and a schedule that isn't especially daunting. The Big East isn't exactly littered with landmines, and the only game that'll require a major upset is the Week 3 trip to the Coliseum to face USC. With seven home game and non-conference dates with Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Toledo, and Tulane, another seven-win regular season is realistic.

Key game: Oct. 21 vs. West Virginia. The Orange stunned the Mountaineers in Morgantown last fall, so you know the visitors will arrive with a little something extra to prove. Not only might this have implications in the Big East race, but it's also on Friday night in front of a national television audience. Last December's bowl game aside, this will be the best chance in years for Syracuse to show the country how far it's come under Marrone.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: Syracuse 19 – Opponents 15
- Average yards per rush: Syracuse 4.1 – Opponents 3.6
- Fourth down conversion %: Syracuse 30% - Opponents 56%

- 2011 Syracuse Preview | 2011 Syracuse Offense
- 2011 Syracuse Defense | 2011 Syracuse Depth Chart
- Syracuse Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006