Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:19 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia. In Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense, the quarterback's communication with the head coach and on-field decision making is pertinent to the system's success. Smith has been a victim of a few slow starts, but has finished every game with an impressive offensive output. Smith is averaging 359.8 yards per game through the air, and completing 64.0 percent of his passes. His ability to find receivers in space has been crucial for the Mountaineers, who only recently found their running game. With 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions there have been few mistakes for the talented junior, who's next challenge will be leading this team to a conference title. Also considered: Mohammed Sanu, Rutgers; Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Tavon Austin, West Virginia.
Defensive Player of the Year: Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have jumped out to a fast start despite only recently finding certain answers at the quarterback and running back position. A huge part of that has been stout play on the defensive side of the ball, led by linebacker Steve Beauhamais. Rutgers' leads the Big East in scoring and total defense, with Beauhamais contributing 32 tackles and ranking 4th in the conference in tackles for loss. Beauhamais also has added 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions to cap off a well-rounded defensive stat line for the leader of one the league's best defensive units. Also considered: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati; Sio Moore, Connecticut; Terence Garvin, West Virginia.
Coach of the Year: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. After Bill Stewart's unplanned early exit, Dana Holgorsen deserves credit for stepping in and quickly taking ownership of the program. Much of the staff is still in place, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but there has been no apparent dissension within the program since Holgorsen's promotion. The most conflict Morgantown has seen was the head coach's shot at the fan base after a home game played before a well-below-capacity crowd. Also considered: Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.
Surprise: Rutgers. With a 5-1 start and two conference victories under their belt, head coach Greg Schiano has all but erased the horrid memories of the 2010 season. While they've shuffled the quarterback and running back positions, arriving on Gary Nova and Jawan Jamison as the apparent starters, the defense ranks 12th nationally only allowing 16.0 points per game. It hasn't always been pretty, but the Scarlet Knights are finding ways to win. Also considered: Cincinnati
Disappointment: Pittsburgh. After promises of "high-octane football," head coach Todd Graham has very little to show from his no-octane Pittsburgh Panthers. There is very little consistency on either side of the ball, with the offense riding running back Ray Graham to stellar performances at times (South Florida) and failing to find the end zone in other contests (Utah). With the talent returning from last season's squad, the Panthers were projected to challenge their backyard rivals for the Big East title. After losing four of their last five, a return to the postseason is even in doubt. Also considered: Louisville.
Game of the Year So Far: Wake Forest at Syracuse. The Orange overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit to knock off Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime on the first night of the college football season. Quarterback Ryan Nassib picked apart a Wake Forest back seven for 15 fourth-quarter points to kick off a "win by any means"-type season for the Orange. Also considered: Maryland at West Virgina.
Game of the Year (To Come): West Virginia at Cincinnati. Three teams poised to race for the Big East title down the stretch seem to be these two teams along with Rutgers. The only way to ensure a championship is to go undefeated in conference play and this is the best chance for someone to knock off the Mountaineers. The Bearcats have an offense that can keep up with West Virginia in a shootout, and their defense is one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. Look for Paul Brown Stadium to be lubed up and rocking when West Virginia comes to town on Nov. 12.
CHAMPION: West Virgina. It will take at least one upset or a furious charge from Cincinnati or Rutgers to keep the Mountaineers from claiming the Big East title and returning to a BCS bowl.
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Tags: Big East, Big East, BJ Daniels, Butch Jones, Chas Dodd, Chip Patterson, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Dana Holgorsen, Gary Nova, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Jawan Jamison, JK Schaffer, Midseason Conference Report, Midseason Report, Midseason Reports, Mohammed Sanu, Nippert Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Sio Moore, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Steve Beauharnais, Syracuse, Tavon Austin, Terence Garvin, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:57 am
Edited on: September 4, 2011 3:07 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
1) Connecticut finally has an answer at running back. Connecticut does not have a clear-cut answer for quarterback. That was obvious with head coach Paul Pasqualoni's use of Johnny McEntee, Michael Nebrich, and Scott McCummings during the Huskies opener against Fordham. However, the game might have answered the team's concerns about replacing 2010 Big East Player of the Year Jordan Todman. Senior transfer D.J. Shoemate was replaced last minute by redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs because Shoemate got "banged up" in practice late in the week.
The switch could end up having an effect on the Huskies season, because McCombs certainly looked like the best choice possible for starting tailback on Saturday. It was the first collegiate appearance for the Staten Island native, and he made the most of every opportunity. By the time all the damage was done McCombs racked up 141 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns. Regardless of opponent, those are impressive numbers for anyone's NCAA debut. If McCombs can keep it up, Pasqualoni may have found a great building block for this new chapter of his seasoned career.
2) It's not always pretty, but the Orange get it done. Doug Marrone was celebrated by the Syracuse football community for returning to his alma mater and bringing them back to the postseason. The Orange's 8-win season was considered by many to be a sign of things to come for a once-storied program. However peeling back the shiny reviews of last season reveal a grimy, hard-nosed battle through the regular season. Syracuse simply found ways to win, and most of the time it was not pretty.
With only 20 letterman and over half of his defensive starters gone from that team, the gritty "find a way to win" style appears very much a part of Syracuse football. Wake Forest appeared to have Thursday's game won, and even fans in the Carrier Dome agreed and were heading for the exits as the Orange trailed by 15 points in the 4th quarter. But the fans that stayed got see Ryan Nassib and Antwon Bailey lead the Syracuse offense to 22 straight points in the final quarter + overtime to pull off the win over the visiting Demon Deacons. The Orange may have been slowly reversing the trend of their home struggles, but certainly not the one of winning ugly.
3) USF made a statement to the conference with upset of Notre Dame. Skip Holtz was forced to spend most of his time with the media this past week answering questions about playing at his alma mater and the school where his father spent 11 years as the head coach. But the story of the game ended up being mother nature, with two different delays due to storms in the area. But more than six hours after kickoff, a statement was made with South Florida's 23-20 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame. The Bulls, who have pulled off five straight 8+ win seasons, are ready to compete for a Bit East title.
The Fighting Irish had plenty of internal issues, including a mid-game quarterback switch during one of the delays, but USF showed up unintimidated and prepared. Holtz seemed excited about his defense heading into the season, and Saturday's performance legitimized his sentiments. The Bulls defense forced five Irish turnovers, and found a way to turn them into enough of a lead to secure a huge confidence-booster for a program looking to break through to the elite. Next for the Bulls will be three more non-conference games before kicking off the conference schedule with one of the most difficult challenges on the slate: a road test against Pittsburgh
4.) What the Dana Holgorsen era looks like at West Virginia. We will find this one out Sunday afternoon when the Mountaineers face in-state rival Marshall. Kickoff at 3:30 p.m., check back after the game because this is something we definitely want to learn.
Tags: Antwon Bailey, Big East, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Shoemate, Dana Holgorsen, Johnny McEntee, Jordan Todman, Louisville, Lyle McCombs, Marshall, Michael Nebrich, Notre Dame, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ryan Nassib, Scott McCummings, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Syracuse, Tino Sunseri, USF, Wake Forest, West Virginia, What I Learned
Posted on: September 2, 2011 10:16 am
Edited on: September 2, 2011 10:43 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
UPDATE: Turns out, Price was cleared by doctors and held out by the coaches.
“I tried to get back in there,” said Price, who had his helmet on and was running on the sideline in hopes of returning. “The doctors said I’d be all right, but the coaches said it’s a long season and there’s no point in further hurting yourself.”
I agree with the long season part, but for a team that is hoping to return to the postseason after a two-year absence, every single win (particularly over FBS opponents) counts.
On the first evening of college football in the 2011 season, it was one of the least hyped games that ended up being arguably the most exciting. Syracuse overcame a 29-14 fourth quarter deficit, rattling off 22 straight points to beat Wake Forest in the Carrier Dome. It was an uplifting win for the Orange, who struggled mightily to get their offense going in the first half and had fans turning towards the exits early in the final period. But the ones who stuck around saw quarterback Ryan Nassib methodically pick apart the Demon Deacons' back seven until running back Antwon Bailey (25 carries, 114 yards, 2 TDs) provided the tying touchdown on a 53-yard scamper down the left sideline.
Things didn't really pickup until fourth quarter for the Orange, when Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price left the game with an injury to his left knee. Price was hit from behind as he let a pass go early in the fourth quarter. At that point in the game the sophomore completed 18 of 31 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. He was running the spread offense like clockwork and connecting with his wide receivers in space, making a once-touted Syracuse defense look very vulnerable.
But backup quarterback Ted Stachitas could not keep up the production in Price's absence after the injury. Stachitas was held to just six completions for 37 yards and threw an interception over the middle on the first series after Syracuse tied the game at 29.
As strong as Price's play was in the first three quarters, his health appears to be tied directly to the success of the Demon Deacons' offense. The drop-off when Stachitas entered the game was noticeable, as he looked out of sync and uncomfortable making his reads in the pocket under pressure. The school has not made any official announcement on details of Price's injury, or when he is expected back in action. Wake Forest welcomes in-state rival North Carolina State next Saturday in their home opener.
Posted on: May 5, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 5:01 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
With all eight teams completed with their spring games, we wrap up spring practice in the Big East.
CINCINNATI: For Cincinnati, the goal this spring was to improve defensively. To be more accurate, improving defensively is not just the "goal" but really an "only option for improvement." Second-year head coach Butch Jones needs to prove that 2010's 4-8 campaign was a fluke, or else the Bearcats' fans will begin to wonder whether or not hiring the coach from Central Michigan was the best move. Cincinnati returns all 11 starters from last year's defense that ranked dead last in the Big East in scoring defense and next to last in total defense. But there have been reasons to believe that the same unit can turn around their performance in 2011.
For the first time since most of the active roster arrived on campus, there is no turnover on the defensive staff. For the last three years, the defense has had to spend their spring learning a new system. Instead the defense has been able to spend the spring focusing on fundamentals, while simply reviewing last year's scheme. In theory, this should lead to more development for a unit that struggled to prevent big plays and close out games in the fourth quarter. Offensively, quarterback Zach Collaros has continued to grow more comfortable and looks ready to try and sign his name in the Cincinnati record books. Collaros led the Big East in passing yards and touchdowns last season, and has spent spring focusing on his accuracy (also threw a league-high 14 interceptions). Highly-touted transfer wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins did not get to showcase his full arsenal due to a nagging hamstring this spring, but should make an impact lining up opposite returning starter D.J. Woods. Many of the Bearcats' spring workouts and spring game were based much more on situational drills, which tend to reveal very little about the team as a whole, but the pieces seem to be aligning for a bounce back season for Cincinnati.
CONNECTICUT: New head coach Paul Pasqualoni has quite a challenge ahead trying follow up the most successful season in program history. Unfortunately Pasqualoni, a veteran of the Big East and Connecticut native, has to try and repeat the success with two new coordinators and without the 2010 Big East Offensive MVP Jordan Todman. Wrapping up the spring, it is evident that expectations for repeating as Big East champs should be tempered. However, the Huskies do have the pieces in place to return to the postseason for the fifth straight year.
The Huskies' biggest question marks still exist in the offensive backfield, where a true starting quarterback has yet to be named and USC-transfer D.J. Shoemate is still settling in to a Todman-less rotation. Connecticut finished dead last in passing offense last season, and it will be difficult to improve that aspect of their game without a starter. Michael Box, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, and Johnny McEntee(of YouTube trick-shot fame), are all competing for a premiere spot in the quarterback rotation. The hope is that behind a talented offensive line Shoemate will be able to get the running game going against a weak early season schedule, allowing whoever wins the job some time to get comfortable.
Defensively, Connecticut should be fine heading into the fall. They are under the direction of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, who's defensive unit at Maryland forced 29 turnovers last season -- good for third in the ACC. The Huskies return their entire defensive line and secondary, and that experience could anchor a unit that could end up being one of the better defenses in the conference.
LOUISVILLE: It was very difficult to learn anything about Louisville this spring due to a roster that was decimated by injury. By the end of spring practice, head coach Charlie Strong was left with only 38 healthy scholarship players on the roster. Fourteen of the injured players took no part in spring drills, the rest were injured during workouts. For a team that is looking to replace 13 departed starters on the offensive and defensive units, it was a frustrating spring of indecision.
Most of the starting jobs are wide open in the Louisville depth chart, but junior Will Stein was able to use the spring to create some separation in the quarterback competition. Stein has already gotten a vote of confidence from Strong, and the high school state champion has waited patiently behind Justin Burke and Adam Froman for his opportunity to start under center. Cardinals fans entered spring salivating over early enrollee Teddy Bridgewater, but practice showed that the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the nation still has some learning to do before getting the keys to the offense. Stein completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the spring "game," but Strong was most pleased that there were zero interceptions. The starting quarterback's primary responsibility is to manage the game, as the Cardinals offense will once again rely on their running game in 2011.
But with Bilal Powell gone, the responsibility will fall on Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson to replicate the best rushing offense in the Big East last year. Wright demonstrated his explosive potential in his freshman season, and Anderson was a 1,000 yard rusher in 2008 before shoulder injuries kept him limited in 2009 and 2010. Wright missed spring workouts with a knee injury, but Anderson enjoyed one of his best springs of his career. If the duo can be healthy at the same time, they could form one of the most dangerous rushing tandems in the conference.
PITTSBURGH: Another team entering the 2011 season with a new coach, the Panthers are not afraid to promote their new brand of "high-octane" football under head coach Todd Graham. Just a quick click over to the newly redesigned GoPittFootball.com should give just a taste of the kind of what Pittsburgh fans are hoping for out of the program's newest era. Graham comes to the Panthers fresh off a productive year at Tulsa, where his offense ranked 5th nationally in total offense with 505.6 yards per game. Dave Wannstedt had an awkward exit with his firing/forced resignation, particularly when he obviously still had the support of the team. But the squad seems to have embraced the new staff, and Graham believes that Pitt can be back in Big East title contention in 2011.
Learning the new offense has been the most important task for returning quarterback Tino Suneri. The junior signal-caller was inconsistent throughout 2010, finishing the season with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The son of Sal Sunseri, currently a linebackers coach at Alabama, Sunseri quickly acclimated himself with the new scheme and has finished the spring as the undisputed starting quarterback. In Pittsburgh's Blue-Gold game, Sunseri lit the rainy skies on fire tossing the ball 55 times (37 completions) for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While the Sunseri will likely put up big numbers this fall in the new spread scheme, the offense has no plans of abandoning the run. Ray Graham returns from a strong sophomore campaign, picking up 922 yards and 8 touchdowns while sharing snaps with Dion Lewis. This year he'll be joined by Desmond Brown in the backfield, who was the leading rusher in the spring game with 64 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Defensively, Pittsburgh has also been adapting to changes with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Patterson has been a longtime Graham assistant, and knows that the offense will dominate the headlines. But with spring practice in the bag, Patterson seems pleased with what he has seen out of the unit - particularly the defensive line.
"That front group has a chance to do some special things," Patterson said. "I feel really good about all those guys and what they are capable of. I think in our shceme they are going to be able to make a lot of plays against both the run and the pass."
Pittsburgh's defense will feature three down lineman, with a fourth "Panther linebacker" on the line of scrimmage upright on most downs. The Panthers have several athletic defenders who could fill this position, one early guess is Brandon Lindsey - who led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2010. If the defense can force some turnovers to give the offense good field position, one of the Panthers' strengths could be putting teams away early. In the Big East, which is short on big-name, gun-slinging quarterbacks, that could be a huge advantage.
RUTGERS: Of all the teams looking to bounce back in 2011, Rutgers probably has the farthest climb to return to the prominence that led to five straight postseason appearances from 2005-2009. The Scarlet Knights return 17 starters from last year's 4-8 squad, and they are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Head coach Greg Schiano has some of the exact same concerns heading into the new season, though he has stressed that he feels like this squad has grown this spring.
"Fundamentally we made significant improvement, and I think we grew a little with our confidence," Schiano explained following the Scarlet-White spring game. "This summer is going to be critical as it is every summer, but probably more so than any summer we've had here.
"The youngsters have to get tougher, they have to get more disciplined, they have to get more consistent. And again, this summer will be huge."
One of the biggest concerns is on the offensive line. Last season the Scarlet Knights were dead last in Division I in sacks allowed, letting the quarterback drop a whopping 61 times. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd has grown more comfortable in the pro-style scheme of new coordinator Frank Cignetti. But Dodd's supposed comfort and improvement in spring could all change when the non-contact jersey comes off in September. If the offensive line shows an about-face in 2011, the Scarlet Knights have talented (but young) skill position players who could help take Rutgers back to the postseason.
All spring the reports from Piscataway have been praising the work of redshirt freshman Brandon Coleman. The 6-6 wide receiver entered Rutgers with high expectations, but any doubters have been silenced since he took the field this spring. Coleman put on a show for the 21,120 in attendance for the spring game with a 78 yard, two touchdown performance. Maybe he was setting the standard for another touted underclassmen who was watching from the sidelines, incoming freshman running back Savon Huggins. The No. 1 recruit in the state of New Jersey, Huggins was a signing day steal that invigorated the Rutgers fan base. He has not even received his high school diploma, but he already carries expectations from a fan base that pines for the next Ray Rice. But again, Huggins will have virtually no chance to showcase his talents without some help from the offensive line. If the Scarlet Knights are going to get back to the postseason, they still have some growing to do before September.
SOUTH FLORIDA: South Florida was the first team in the Big East to wrap up spring practice, holding their final scrimmage almost a month ago. It was an awkward spring schedule, getting started early and having to dance around conflicts for Raymond-James Stadium, but at the conclusion the Bulls appear to be about in the same position as they were a year ago. The Bulls averaged a 7-point margin of defeat and 4-point margin of victory in league play last season, making their season this close to magical and that close to disastrous. Still, head coach Skip Holtz was able to get USF back to the postseason and pull down a bowl victory - the Bulls' third in a row.
South Florida's time in the Big East could be categorized as "good-but-not-great." They have made a bowl every year (4-2 record), but never finished higher than tied for third in the league standings. At the end of spring practice the Bulls look good, but still have some work to do to reach greatness. Starting quarterback B.J. Daniels returns for junior season behind an inexperienced offensive line with a set of receivers that have been less than impressive. But similar to 2010, the playmaking ability of the offensive backfield will make South Florida a threat against most defenses in the league. Demetris Murray returns at running back after picking up 533 yards and four touchdowns as a backup to Moise Plancher a year ago. He will be joined by a pair of transfers, Darrell Scott (Colorado) and Dontae Aycock (Auburn). Both backs are larger than the 5-10, 206 pound Murray, and should compliment his style well. Scott finished the spring listed as the No. 2 running back, despite being setback by a nagging hamstring injury. Defensively the Bulls return six starters from a unit that, in typical Bulls fashion, stacks up right in the middle of the conference. They lose some run-stoppers on the defensive line, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the unit as a whole - particularly the linebackers. If the Bulls are going to go from good to great in 2011, they will need to focus on developing their wide receivers more this summer. Otherwise it might be another vanilla bowl game season for South Florida.
SYRACUSE: Coming into the spring, my one question for Syracuse was how head coach Doug Marrone planned to repeat the success of 2010 with so many playmakers missing from that Pinstripe Bowl-winning squad. But with spring practice in the books, it seems like the Orange are prepared to prove that last season was not a fluke - but the beginning of a new chapter in Syracuse football. The Orange jumped out to strong start last season with solid defense and running the ball. With all-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith gone, the responsibility has fallen on sophomore Marquis Spruill to anchor that corps as he makes the move to middle linebacker. Marrone believes that the strengths in the defense this season will be with the defensive ends and safeties. Seniors Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich will begin as starters, but expect to see a good amount of junior Brandon Sharpe as well after a strong spring. In the defensive backfield Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas return as starting safeties while corners Keon Lyn and Ri'Shard Anderson both earned high praise for their efforts during the spring.
Offensively the number one question is how to replace Delone Carter. The 1,233 yard rusher from 2010 carried the Orange on his back when Ryan Nassib and the passing game sputtered, carrying the ball at least 18 times in eight different games. Antwon Bailey was exceptional as Carter's backup, but some people wonder whether the 5-7 running back can be an "every-down back." Bailey will be backed up by another speedster, the 5-9 Prince-Tyson Gulley. Orange fans are hoping that an improved passing game will help alleviate that pressure, and that responsibility falls on Nassib. Luckily, the offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters from last year and redshirt senior tight end Nick Provo showed his ability as a big, reliable target for when Nassib gets in trouble. The players claim that last year's success has changed the attitude this spring, and now they have a new belief in themselves. Talk is great in March and April, but we'll check back in on these guys in August.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers fell one game short of returning to a BCS bowl game in 2010, after an inability to score led to two early season conference losses. The Mountaineers offense eventually got going, finishing the regular season with at least 35 points in 3 of 4 straight victories. So in the interest of preparing for the future, and ensuring offensive stability, athletic director Oliver Luck arranged for the arrival of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. His impact has been obvious and immediate on the West Virginia offense, with quarterback Geno Smith falling comfortably into Holgorsen's spread system from day one. Smith finished the spring by throwing for 388 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Even against a talented Mountaineer defense, Smith was able to connect with his wide receivers for 44, 67, and a 38 yard touchdown pass. Holgorsen plans on supplying Smith with a deep rotation of running backs and receivers, pushing the ball horizontally and vertically. If Smith continues to improve on his already hot start in the new system, the Mountaineers should have no problem scoring the ball against the Big East defenses.
Defensively it is hard to make judgements based on performance against their own offense, but West Virginia does still have some work to do in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has admitted he is already anxious to get back to camp, particularly after seeing how the unit performed in the spring game. The unit only returns four starters from last year, with defensive line likely being the Mountaineers strength. In Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme, the pressure is on the secondary to be everywhere on the field at once. Despite a wealth of athleticism at that position, there is still plenty of gelling left for the unit. But if the offense is putting up 30+ points per game (which they may), it should give the defense some time to come together before conference play begins.
Tags: Antwon Bailey, B.J. Daniels, Big East, Bill Stewart, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Cincinnati, Connecticut, D.J. Woods, Dana Holgorsen, Darrell Scott, Delone Carter, Demetrius Murray, Desmond Brown, Don Brown, Doug Marrone, Frank Cignetti, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisville, Marcus Sales, Oliver Luck, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Rutgers, Ryan Nassib, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Syracuse, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham, Victor Anderson, What I Learned, What I Learned This Spring, Will Stein, Zach Collaros
Posted on: March 10, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: March 10, 2011 5:52 pm
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
Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: December 30, 2010 7:34 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Syracuse rides Delone Carter, Marcus Sales and some help from the refs to beat Kansas State 38-36 in first ever Pinstripe Bowl
Offense: Syracuse did not come into this game with the reputation as a strong offense, as the Orange averaged only 21.0 points a game this season. Still, a funny thing happens when you have a running back like Delone Carter and are facing one of the worst run defenses in the country: you rack up yards like there's no tomorrow. The Syracuse offense put up 498 yards of total offense on the day, led by Carter's 202 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. Ryan Nassib also found his groove after playing poorly down the stretch of the season, to throw for 240 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
All three of Nassib's touchdown passes went to Marcus Sales, who only had one touchdown during the season, and wasn't even listed on the depth chart before the year started. Sales finished the day with 5 catches for 172 yards. Grade: A
Defense: Much like its offense, Syracuse's defense took on an alternate personality in Yankee Stadium. Syracuse only gave up 13.1 points a game during the season, but life is a bit different when you step out of the Big East apparently. Still, even though Kansas State put up a lot of points, the Syracuse defense played a bit better than it looks.
First of all, holding a Kansas State offense that averaged over 200 yards on the ground per game to 120 yards and 3.3 yards a carry is nothing to be ashamed of. No doubt the Syracuse game plan was to stuff the Wildcats ground attack and force them to air it out, which they did, but had probably been hoping they could do a better job of containing the passing game. Grade: C
Coaching: Doug Marrone took the leash off his offense and let the kids play a bit in this one, and it worked out very well for the Orange. From flea-flickers to reverses, to being smart enough to pound KSU into submission with Delone Carter, I can't find much in Syracuse's gameplan to complain about. Grade: A
Offense: Much like Syracuse, Kansas State didn't have a lot of trouble finding the end zone in this game. What was surprising, however, was to see Chase Coffman have so much success throwing the ball. I had thought that Kansas State would be better served with Collin Klein at quarterback in this game, and it turns out I was wrong.
Coffman completed 17-of-23 passes for 229 yards and a couple touchdowns.
The problem for the Wildcats was that aside from his 51-yard touchdown run in the first minute of the game, Daniel Thomas was virtually non-existent. Yes, he finished with 3 touchdowns, but following that first run, Thomas had only 38 yards on 20 carries. When he struggles like that, Kansas State isn't going to win a lot of games. Grade: B
Defense: Did Kansas State play defense during this game? I'm having some trouble remembering plays in which it did.
Seriously, Kansas State's defense wasn't anything to be proud of all season, and it wasn't on Thursday as well. When you allow an offense that had been as lackluster as Syracuse's to pick up nearly 500 yards of offense, well, there's only one grade you deserve. Grade: F
Coaching: Bill Snyder. I love what you've done for Kansas State in your career, but you made some questionable decisions in this one. While I loved the call to run the option on fourth and goal early in the fourth quarter, the fake field goal you ran later in the quarter when down five just didn't do it for me. You know that touchdown you scored in the final minutes that the refs jobbed you on -- more on that in a bit -- and cost you a chance to send the game to overtime? Yeah, well had you just kicked that field goal, the refs wouldn't have factored into the game and you'd have won. Grade: C
Seriously, refs? A personal foul in the final minutes after Adrian Hilburn scored a touchdown to bring Kansas State within two points? Really? Was a salute to the crowd actually enough to warrant a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call, and force Kansas State to go for two from the 18-yard line? I hope it was for you, because I fear that what was a very good game will only be remembered for your boneheaded call at the end of it.
But, hey, at least you kept the kids from having any fun in their bowl game, right? That's why we have these bowl games, isn't it? As a reward for the players?
Final Grade: This game was not the crispest football game we've seen this year, but as far as the bowl games have gone, this was one of the more entertaining affairs for both the fans and viewers. It's just unfortunate that a terrible call by the referees had such a dramatic impact on the outcome. Still, even with that happening, I'm going to base this grade on the first 58 minutes and 46 seconds. Grade: A-
Posted on: December 27, 2010 2:15 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2010 2:15 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series. Read our preview for today's Independence Bowl here.
The Basics: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5), Dec. 30, 3:20pm EST
Why You Should Watch: Because don't you want to be able to tell your children and grandchildren someday that you were there, at home, to watch the first ever New Era Pinstripe Bowl inside the legendary two-year old -- it may be 22 years old by then -- Yankee Stadium? Who could pass that opportunity up? Plus, given the latest weather patterns to hit New York this week, the game could be played under two feet of snow.
Keys to Victory for Kansas State: It seems pretty generic to say it, but it's true. In order for Kansas State to beat Syracuse the Wildcats are going to have to win the battle up front on offense. Syracuse has a strong defensive line anchored by defensive tackles Bud Tribbey and Andrew Lewis. The interior of KSU's line, which has been strong all season, will have to neutralize those two and get to the second level and take linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue out of the equation.
This will be a key for Daniel Thomas to find room, and the more successful that Daniel Thomas is, the more successful Kansas State generally is.
It's likely that Kansas State will also feature backup QB Collin Klein a bit in this game as well. He saw a lot more playing time towards the end of the season, and he's more athletic and elusive than Carson Coffman is, and at times looked unstoppable. It will be important for Kansas State to be successful on the ground because its passing attack has been suspect this season, and Syracuse is strong in pass coverage.
Keys to Victory for Syracuse: It's not exactly a secret that Syracuse's strength is its defense. The Orange are ranked only 99th in the country with 21.0 points per game, but are ranked 13th in the nation on defense, allowing only 18.1 points per game.
That formula shouldn't change in this game, but Syracuse does have a chance to be a bit more successful on offense. Particularly in the rushing game, as Kansas State has been pretty underwhelming against the run on defense this season. So Syracuse's best bet would be to feed the ball to Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey and pound the Wildcats defense into submission.
There may be room for Syracuse to throw the ball a bit better than they have this season, but Ryan Nassib doesn't have many options around him and he can be a bit slow in making a decision. So Syracuse would be better served to pick its spots in the passing game, and let Carter and Bailey carry the load.
The Pinstripe Bowl is like: an actual baseball game at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and Red Sox. Not because this is such a strong rivalry, or because the stands will be packed, but because the final score is likely going to be 14-13 and the game will take over four hours.