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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: George McDonald | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bullough
The most prolific offense in Syracuse history was already facing a significant transition due to the departures of quarterback Ryan Nassib, receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales and the left side of the offensive line. Then the architect of the attack, Doug Marrone, left to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills and took offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with him.
Marrone and Hackett stumbled onto the vast potential of their West Coast scheme during a 2012 preseason scrimmage in which the regular offense struggled but the two-minute phase thrived. Consequently, the no-huddle two-minute scheme became the every-down offense and took off. With Nassib setting a school record for passing yards (3,749) and Lemon and Sales combining for 136 receptions, SU averaged a school-record 476.0 yards per game. With the trio gone the honeymoon would have likely ended anyway.
Marrone’s departure exacerbated the situation. New coach Scott Shafer, Marrone’s former defensive coordinator, vowed to maintain the up-tempo tone and hired Miami passing game coordinator George McDonald to fill the breach. “This will be an up-tempo offense,” McDonald says, “but it’s also going to be physical.”
Its strength will be at running back, where Jerome Smith produced 1,171 yards as a first-year starter, and his backup, Prince-Tyson Gulley, piled up 1,112 rushing and receiving yards. The million-dollar question is, who will replace Nassib? The competition was turned upside down when Oklahoma senior Drew Allen decided to transfer to Syracuse for his final season of eligibility.
Whoever wins the job will have veteran targets in wideout Jarrod West (43 receptions for 588 yards) and tight end Beckett Wales (35 for 389) and three starters returning up front, but there is still a ton of experience and production to replace.
The transition on defense was easier, as Shafer directed a unit that finished No. 6 in the nation in tackles for a loss (7.69 per game) and reached into his coaching past to hire a coordinator who shared his philosophy of attacking from all angles. “His scheme is basically my scheme,” says Chuck Bullough, who coached with Shafer in 2005 at Western Michigan. “We just think alike.”
Bullough inherits a unit loaded with experience at tackle, linebacker and the secondary. He’ll miss strong safety Shamarko Thomas (88 tackles) and end Brandon Sharpe (seven sacks) but has a nice nucleus returning. Linebacker Marquis Spruill is a fourth-year starter, and tackle Jay Bromley, linebacker Dyshawn Davis, free safety Jeremi Wilkes and cornerbacks Ri’Shard Anderson and Keon Lyn have extensive experience. They will have to rise to the occasion, as the offense will likely take a step backward.
The good news for Syracuse is that it returns every player who handled the ball on special teams last season. The bad news — each had an up-and-down season. Even Ross Krautman, who is the third-most accurate kicker in school history (48-of-61, .787), slipped to 15-of-23 (.652). The kicking rotation will likely remain intact in 2013, but Darius Kelly, an accomplished returner in junior college, will get a long look when he arrives in August.
With Marrone guiding the 2012 team to a 6–1 finish, the stage was set for a smooth transition to the ACC. Marrone’s departure clouded the optimism. That noted, Shafer was part of Marrone’s staff and understands the program and personnel well. He knows the onus will shift from the offense to defense and special teams this season. The ability of those units to offset the inexperience on offense holds the key to SU’s season.
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