Team: Syracuse Orange
2012 W-L: 8-5 (5-2 in Big East)
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (0-0; first season)
Returning Starters: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
After pulling his alma mater out from college football exile (more or less), former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone headed off to “greener” pastures this offseason: Buffalo, to coach the NFL’s Bills. While some might argue that he wasn’t exactly done with the job — after all, this was a program that just a decade or so ago was finishing in the top 15-20 every year — you can’t say he didn’t leave the program in infinitely better shape than how he inherited it. Most important in that is the Orange’s move to the ACC, and now without Marrone, they’ve got quite the challenge ahead of them. There’s faith that new coach Scott Shafer should keep the team on an upward trajectory, but it won’t be easy to keep the small private school from Upstate New York climbing.
All the concern — for this season, anyway — starts off with the changes on offense. QB Ryan Nassib is gone after a superb senior campaign, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (the architect of last year’s attack) followed Marrone to Buffalo. Last year’s top two receivers are gone too, as are standout linemen Justin Pugh and Zach Chibane. So needless to say, there’s plenty of rebuilding to be done. To replace Nassib, the team is still deciding between Terrel Hunt and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, both of whom look ready for the job (though my money’s on Allen) and a nice change of pace from the former SU record-breaker. Hunt, a junior, is a dual-threat, while Allen is a more polished pro-style passer, and it’s likely both will see plenty of playing time this year. As far as who’s catching passes, it’s Jarrod West and tight end Beckett Wales, most importantly, with a lot of unproven alternatives along with them. The line has more experience than most realize — Sean Hickey and Macky MacPherson have both seen plenty of playing time — and despite the losses, I think this group actually holds up compared to last season. Finally, George McDonald takes over the offense, and admittedly, we don’t really know what we’re getting there.