Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Syracuse , who started spring practice Tuesday.
Can Syracuse prove that 2010 was the start of a new era, and not a fluke?
There is no mistaking that Syracuse found their man when they hired Doug Marrone as their new head coach before the 2009 season. The first Orange alumnus to do so since 1948, Marrone knows what it takes to turn Syracuse back into a winner.
Marrone played offensive line for Syracuse under head coach Dick MacPherson. Well known for a six season streak of bowl berths (with a 5-0-1 record) and an 11-0 regular season in 1987, MacPherson nearly lost his job before the streak started. Marrone played on the team that took Mac to his first bowl game as head coach of the Orange, a small success that many believe saved his job. Marrone has witnessed firsthand the foundations needed to establish a winning program at Syracuse. After a successful 2010 Syracuse entered spring practice with a buzz; a new feeling of optimism heading into Marrone's third season as coach.
"We've got a glow about us," said running back Antwon Bailey. "It's good to be back, just to have a helmet on again."
The 2010 Syracuse Orange finished 8-5 with a dramatic 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was the best record, and first bowl win since the 2001 season. More than that, it was the first time the Orange had made the postseason since 2004. Syracuse was never quite a player in the wide-open Big East title race, but they made enough noise to earn the respect of the conference.
Syracuse did very few things glamorously last season, but they found ways to win. Fitting that a team coached by an offensive lineman would reach the postseason by playing tough, hard-nosed football. Syracuse started the season hot, using momentum from a cushy non-conference schedule to jump out to a 6-2 start. The defense was playing well, and Syracuse was doing damage on the ground with Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey. That defensive unit finished the season second in the Big East in total defense, and Carter was the conference's third leading rusher.
But Carter has graduated, and so have All-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. If the Orange are going to repeat their success from 2010, they will need to reload that top-ranked defense. At linebacker rising sophomore Marquis Spruill, a starter in 2010 as a true freshman, will move over to middle linebacker to anchor the new unit. They get junior-college transfer Siriki Diabate eligible in the fall, but the first team for now will include Dan Vaughan and Mario Tull. In front of them, Syracuse will also be looking to fill holes at the defensive tackle position. Andrew Lewis and Anthony Perkins are gone, and it will likely be some combination of Cory Boatman, Deon Goggins, Jay Bromley, and Robert Welsh competing for the starting positions this spring.
Replacing Carter will be tough, seeing as he made up 68% of Syracuse's ground game in 2010. Luckily, his replacement has seen his fair share of snaps. Bailey picked up 554 yards rushing and 306 yards receiving in Carter's stead last season. Marrone has already identified him as the featured back for next season, but his size has many critics wondering if he can go every down. Rising sophomore Prince-Tyson Gulley saw action in the special-teams as a freshman, and could push Bailey for snaps this spring.
But one area of the Syracuse depth chart seems to be sorted out as spring practice begins. Quarterback Ryan Nassib started 13 games in 2010, and the coaching staff has anointed him the starter in spring practice. But just because Nassib has the starting position virtually locked up in March, that doesn't mean that he is taking spring practice any differently.
"This is spring ball. Really, the definition of spring ball is competition. Nothing is ever guaranteed in this game," Nassib said Tuesday night after the Orange opened spring practice. "You've really got to go out there every day and never think that you're owed anything and just keep competing. There's four, five other guys behind me that want the same job. You've really got to start anew, stay humble, just keep working."
Nassib was spotty, at best, in his first full season as the starting quarterback. His 19 touchdowns on the season were padded heavily during the beginning of the season, with the West Chester, PA native throwing just 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in the final four games of the regular season.
But in Nassib's defense, he wasn't dealing with the most polished crop of wide receivers. Van Chew, Marcus Sales, and Alec Lemon all return, hopefully improved with a season of experience under their belt. A lot of the early focus during spring will be on Sales, who exploded on the scene in the Pinstripe Bowl with 172 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns. An improved passing game in 2011 will go along way to take the pressure off Bailey, and give the Orange a much better chance of returning to the postseason.
So was 2010 a fluke? Doug Marrone will have a lot of work to do to replace critical pieces to last season's success, and that starts now in spring practice. As far as expectations go for 2011? A second-straight bowl berth could validate a new era in Syracuse football. But it will take a lot of work from Syracuse's returning starters to pick up where last year's seniors left off, setting the tone on and off the field.
Syracuse started spring practice on Tuesday, they will play their annual spring game on April 16
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