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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Big East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Doug Marrone, 17-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nathaniel Hackett | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Shafer
The offense was supposed to carry the 2011 Orange while a young defense matured. It didn’t happen that way. The offense showed only moderate improvement, while the defense suffered through expected growing pains.
After watching his 2011 defense get burned by zone read schemes run by mobile quarterbacks, coach Doug Marrone decided to tweak his offense for the 2012 season and has created more running opportunities for the signal-caller. That should help senior Ryan Nassib, who passed for almost 2,700 yards last year but spent too much time being chased around in the pocket.
An experienced group of wide receivers is led by senior Alec Lemon and sophomore Jarrod West, and will be bolstered by the return of senior Marcus Sales, who sat out 2011 while facing drug charges that were later dropped. The running game, however, is unproven. Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore will battle for carries, but keep an eye on true freshman Ashton Broyld, a dual-threat quarterback who could see time at running back while learning the offense.
Inexperience at linebacker and cornerback were the primary reasons Syracuse ranked last in the Big East in total defense (386.4 ypg) and scoring defense (28.5 ppg) in 2011. Big plays were a bane for the unit, and Marrone hired two assistants — NFL coaching veteran Donnie Henderson (defensive backs) and former MAC assistant Steve Morrison (linebackers) — to help coordinator Scott Shafer get the defense back on track.
Four experienced linebackers return, and SU will be bigger on the interior of the defensive line. But the loss of three defensive ends, including all-conference performer Chandler Jones, will hurt. Senior Deon Goggins was moved from tackle to end in the spring to help fill the void.
Senior strong safety Shamarko Thomas is surrounded by young, athletic talent in the deep secondary. Experienced juniors Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson will hold down the corners in Shafer’s attacking 4-3 scheme. Wayne Morgan, an incoming freshman from Brooklyn, will be in the mix for playing time right away at cornerback.
The 2012 SU defense should be faster, which will allow it to cover better and prevent opposing quarterbacks from extending plays, but the linebackers have to jell as a group for this unit to take a significant step forward.
Marrone has taken over as special teams coach. Proven junior Ross Krautman will be solid on field goals after hitting 15-of-19 last season. Sophomore punter Jonathan Fisher needs to be more consistent; he averaged 39.3 yards as a freshman. True freshman Ryan Norton has a strong leg and should get a shot a kickoffs, which have been a problem.
The momentum gained from winning eight games and winning a bowl in 2010 didn’t carry over to last season. Now, Marrone, entering his fourth season, is faced with a difficult nonconference schedule that includes games against national title contender USC, Missouri, Minnesota and Northwestern.
The coach says he’d rather face a tough lineup, even though his team has issues on both sides of the ball. “The challenge is getting the talent level up to the schedule,” Marrone says. “When you look at our history, we’ve done this before. It almost forces you to become better — right out of the gate.”
More offensive production would be a good first step.