2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Syracuse Orange

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Team: Syracuse Orange

W-L: 8-5

Postseason: 38-14 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over West Virginia

Top Offensive Performer: Ryan Nassib, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Brandon Sharpe, DE

Syracuse was looking to leave the conference they founded (the Big East) on a high-note, but things didn’t appear to be going as planned when they started off the year a disappointing 2-4. But then something clicked. The Orange, at one time haunted by the ghosts of a five-game losing streak to close 2011, wrapped up 2012 by winning six of seven, including their second Pinstripe Bowl victory in two years. It was a fitting end to send their senior quarterback (and soon after, head coach, too) out in style.

At the focal point of early August’s practices was a complete revamp of the SU offense. Over the past few seasons, the team appeared to get bogged down by their inability to move the ball (24 points per game in 2011; 22 points per game in 2010), and then-offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was tasked with fixing the issue. After quickly installing a no-huddle system with spread elements, it appeared the Orange were in business early in September. While the first two games both resulted in losses, the offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders, mostly by the strength of senior QB Ryan Nassib’s arm. In those two early contests alone, Nassib would complete 75 of 132 passes for 804 yards and six scores. But then the wheels began to come off, and thus entered then-coach Doug Marrone’s “tank” package; implementing goal-line elements on various downs and distances, specifically designed for running back Adonis Ameen-Moore. Once the set took hold, it immediately balanced the Syracuse attack, and a group that was floundering by mid-September finished the year scoring 30 points per game, with the  17th-ranked offense in the country. Nassib and wideout Alec Lemon were still the stars of the show, mind you, but what they really needed to be successful was a well-planned rushing attack — something they saw from October onward, as the SU backfield would end the season ranked 40th in the FBS, racking up 187 yards per game.

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Atlantic Coast Convos Post-National Signing Day 2013 Top 25

Stanford Appears Poised to Contend for a National Championship in 2013

Stanford Appears Poised to Contend for a National Championship in 2013

Following National Signing Day a couple weeks ago, we’re starting to get a better idea on just where teams stand for the 2013 college football season. Based exclusively on returning players, National Signing Day results and your standard blind guessing, our very early 2013 top 25 is included below. Disagree? Like these picks? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Atlantic Coast Convos 2013 Top 25 (February 19)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (Last Month: 1)

2. Stanford Cardinal (LM: 3)

3.Texas A&M Aggies (LM: 4)

4.Oregon Ducks (LM: 2)

5. Georgia Bulldogs (LM: 5)

6. Ohio State Buckeyes (LM: 6)

7. South Carolina Gamecocks (LM: 7)

8. Clemson Tigers (LM: 8)

9. Louisville Cardinals (LM: 9)

10. Florida Gators (LM: 13)

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Can the Wake Forest Football Program Remain Competitive?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

While assembling the daily links for Wednesday, I happened upon an interesting story from Rant Sports, “Can the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Stay Competitive in ACC Football?” On a top-level, author M. Shannon Smallwood, takes a quick look at how Wake Forest and head coach Jim Grobe have continued to compete despite lesser resources and prestige than many of their counterparts, both locally and nationally. But I wanted to dig a bit deeper into that discussion, and really talk about the factors the school’s up against in the evolving college football environment. So rather than just chat about it by myself, I decided to bring in the author himself. What follows is our email conversation from yesterday:

John Cassillo: Can Wake Forest hope to compete in football in the future? With the conference’s smallest athletic budget and an influx of “richer” teams (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and “sort of” Notre Dame) coming in the ACC door, how are they going to play catch-up? Or better question: Can they play catch-up with the conference’s 14 other schools?

M. Shannon Smallwood: I am the eternal optimist so I have to believe the leadership in the Athletic Department and the President of the University are capable and smart enough to realize what decisions need to be made in order to keep the school afloat. But the reality is the landscape just got a lot more challenging for Wake Forest on every level.

I am working on my first ACC Football Power Rankings for Rant Sports (posting on Saturday) and I have Wake in the bottom three in the new-look ACC. I just don’t think the Demon Deacons will be able to put the depth of talent on the field to compete for four quarters in every game. I do think they can recruit and put 25 or so top level athletes on offense and defense, but its the athletes from 26 to 85, I am worried about.

I will say this is not a game of “catch up”. I think if you are a school looking at the landscape and, as an AD or President, you say “we need to catch up with the other members of the ACC,” you are setting yourself and your school up for disaster. Case-in-point: Maryland. The Terps made some terrible decisions and were/are bankrupt until the Big 10 bailed them out. Could Wake, Boston College or Duke ever be in a situation like Maryland? I don’t think so. I think there are some deep pockets and smarter folks at these three schools. But to be successful, you have to win. You have to create a buzz around campus, the town and the nation.

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

When we last left our teams, there appeared to be hope on the horizon. Though the 2012 season was a difficult one, the bowls showed some real glimmers of great things to come, as the ACC racked up its first winning postseason record in seven years. Beyond some long-awaited hope for greater success, 2013 also brings some change to these rankings. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will now actually be participating in the conference, after two seasons appearing in the power rankings despite not doing so. And Louisville, our newest pals set to join in 2014, will also be joining the party — meaning 15 teams will be listed for the remainder of this calendar year (and slightly beyond into bowl season 2014). Cheer up! It’s less than 230 days ’till kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 2): Tajh Boyd‘s back, and the defense is improving steadily. So even without DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, this team will still be fine in 2013. In year two under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, expect an even more aggressive front-seven as the coach works on improving linebacker play in particular. That secondary will still get burned, but be certain they’ve also learned some lessons from last year, too.

2. Louisville Cardinals (LY: NR): After the show Teddy Bridgewater put on during the Sugar Bowl this year, the Cardinals are an extremely hot commodity, and are likely to start strong in their final season of Big East football. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Charlie Strong and his team respond to having a target on their backs from week one, when they’ll likely be handed a top-10 ranking to start the year.

3. Florida State Seminoles (LY: 1): They’re losing a lot on the defensive side of the football, along with QB and senior leader, EJ Manuel. But like those old, Bobby Bowden-coached teams of teams of the 90s, this ‘Noles squad has already reloaded. The offense may take a few to warm up, but the defense will still be very much their strength heading into next season.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LY: 5): After sitting out two straight years of postseason berths, the ‘Canes are really hoping they’re given a break from the NCAA in terms of leniency. With a ton of young talent eager to get a shot at a conference title, and arguably the best QB/RB tandem in the ACC in Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson, Miami could very well be out for blood come opening kickoff this fall.

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Atlantic Coast Convos Far-Too-Early 2013 Top 25

Alabama Will Be Favored to Win Their Third Straight Title in 2013

Alabama Will Be Favored to Win Their Third Straight National Championship in 2013

Just because the previous college football season ended only last week doesn’t mean we can’t turn our eyes to next year already. Based exclusively on returning players, currently committed recruits and your standard blind guessing, our very early 2013 top 25 is included below. Disagree? Like these picks? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Atlantic Coast Convos 2013 Top 25 (January 14)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Oregon Ducks

3. Stanford Cardinal

4. Texas A&M Aggies

5. Georgia Bulldogs

6. Ohio State Buckeyes

7. South Carolina Gamecocks

8. Clemson Tigers

9. Louisville Cardinals

10. LSU Tigers

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #25, Aaron Donald

Pitt's Aaron Donald Ranks 25th in Our Countdown of the ACC's Top Players of 2012

Pitt’s Aaron Donald Ranks 25th in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top Players of 2012

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 25, Aaron Donald, DT/Pittsburgh (Preseason Rank: 21)

Donald thrived during his junior season in Pitt’s new base 4-3 defense, terrorizing offensive lines in the undersized Big East. While his sack numbers went down compared to last year (from 11 to 5.5), his tackles-for-loss jumped up in one less game this year from 16 to 18.5; and that’s still with lines prepared to double-team him. The advantage Donald gets from switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 was a key for his role in preventing the run (as evidenced by the increase in TFLs with a decrease in sacks), but the team actually played slightly worse against the run than they had the year before (21st in yards per game allowed in 2011, versus 35th in 2012). Donald obviously can’t account for his teammates, but between his TFLs and QB hurries (11), it’s apparent he’s done his part to make an impact defending both the run and pass. While he’s submitted paperwork to investigate his NFL Draft status, it’s no guarantee that he stays with Pitt or heads to the pros next year.

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New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Syracuse Orange vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

Syracuse and West Virginia Have Two of the Country's Best Passing Attacks, But Which Will Prevail?

Syracuse and West Virginia Have Two of the Country’s Best Passing Attacks, But Which Will Prevail?

Syracuse‘s year certainly started rough — a 2-4 start that appeared to be spiraling into another disappointing season for the Orange after last year’s 5-7 campaign — until they wrapped up on a hot streak that saw them win five of their final six wins, and capture a share of the Big East title. West Virginia, on the other hand, shot out of the gate at 5-0, and had a national championship on their minds. A few months later, they’re 7-5 and playing in one of the Big 12’s lesser bowls. So who’s got the upper hand in this rivalry renewal (despite the Schwartzwalder Trophy’s absence)?

Bowl Game: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Location: Bronx, N.Y.

First Year: 2010

2012 Participants: Syracuse Orange (7-5) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

Last Meeting: Syracuse over West Virginia, 49-23 (2011)

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Syracuse (previous bowl game: 36-34 win vs. Kansas State in 2010 Pinstripe Bowl)

Dynamic. Disappointing. Surprising. Frustrating… any or all of these adjectives apply to Syracuse football during a 2012 season that saw them both struggle and succeed in spurts. The passing game, behind senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, put up some of the best numbers in team history: 301.6 yards per game through the air, which would rank them 21st in the entire country. While the defense could never truly gain its footing from week to week, the group still allowed just 25.7 points per game (good for 52nd in the FBS), though it admittedly struggled against both mobile quarterbacks and the passing game in general (21 passing TDs allowed). The bright side for them, however, is that they also thrived in high-scoring situations. Six different times they scored 30 or more points, and in five of those instances, they were victorious. Syracuse knew how to play close to the vest too, with a 3-3 record in games decided by a score or less (including two straight victories in such games — October 27 vs. USF and November 17 at Missouri). Against a West Virginia team that can throw with the best of them, while failing to stop anyone in the same breath, it’s hard to see this as anything but a strength. The Orange defense will need to find some consistent pass-rushing from the defensive front, and lock down receivers on deep routes (a struggle all season). But if they can’t, SU’s offense has shown it can beat teams through both the running and passing games, respectively, piling up over 250 yards on the ground in two of their last three games.

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