Over the last several days we've taken a look at many of the Big East teams and where they stand coming out of the spring. If you missed them, make sure you read up on Cincinnati and Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh and Rutgers and USF. For our final Big East spring look we look at Syracuse and the newest Big East arrival, the Temple Owls.
Head Coach: Doug Marrone (fourth season, 17-20 overall)
Syracuse had a thrilling victory over Big East Conference champion West Virginia (then ranked #11) in the Carrier Dome Oct. 11, 2011. Unfortunately, it was the only Big East victory for the Orange. They struggled to a 1-6 conference record and 5-7 overall. What’s more, the team’s 33-30 overtime victory over Toledo Sept. 24 was disputed when game officials missed a call on an extra point. The season was one that Syracuse fans surely would like to forget.
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Trying to turn the corner at the start of the spring session, Doug Marrone decided to limit public attention and scrutiny, closing all but two practices sessions from media and fans. Even if the intended result was a more unified and focused team, the move by the normally media-friendly coach raised questions and frustration levels.
Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib will lead the offense again, but All-Big East First Team tailback Antwon Bailey, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, has departed along with their leading receiver in 2011, All-Big East First Team tight end Nick Provo. Still another All-Big East First Team player is off the roster. Offense guard Andrew Tiller was drafted 179th overall by the New Orleans Saints.
All eyes this year are on Ashton Broyld, a quarterback/athlete recruit from Rochester, N.Y., who played last season at Milford Academy, located just west of Cooperstown. He is expected to lineup in the backfield or as a receiver, without ruling out the occasional Wildcat quarterback possibility. The principal running backs are expected to be juniors Jerome Smith, a power back, and speedster Prince-Tyson Gulley.
Another plus for the Orange is the return of senior wide receiver Marcus Sales. Suspended for the 2011 season after being arrested, Sales was reinstated earlier this when the charges against him were dropped. Fans hope that he will help the Orange stretch the field next season and provide a repeat of his three touchdown receptions in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
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The defense bid farewell to All-Big East First Team defensive end Chandler Jones who will be playing on Sundays in New England this fall. Selected 21st overall by the Patriots, Jones drew double-teams constantly last season. The Syracuse defense was not an effective unit in 2011, so neutralizing Jones was an easy tactic for opposing offenses.
Safety Phillip Thomas, who led the Big East in interceptions and was fourth in tackles last season, also departed with hopes of playing in the NFL. Recruit Wayne Morgan, from Brooklyn, N.Y., is expected to help the secondary right away.
Syracuse has ambitions of returning to the postseason, but their schedule is not accommodating. The Orange will play four BCS opponents on their nonconference schedule: Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Missouri, and a neutral-site game against USC at MetLife (Giants/Jets) Stadium. Their FCS opponent is Stony Brook in week three. The Big East schedule has Pitt, UConn and Louisville coming to the Carrier Dome. The team travels to face Rutgers, USF, Cincinnati and Temple.
Syracuse has quality personnel but a demoralizing season in the rearview mirror and a daunting schedule ahead. Expect them to compete but not contend in 2012.
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (second year, 9-4)
Rumors swirled at the end of last season that Temple would play in the Big East in 2012. Most Big East fans dismissed it as recruiting ploys and attempts to inspire existing players who had just completed a fine season. The rumors ultimately died, but surprisingly proved accurate when the Owls accepted an invitation to replace departed West Virginia in the Big East beginning with the upcoming football season.
Previously a member of the Big East (1991-2004), the Owls football team played as an independent for two seasons before joining the Mid-American Conference in 2007. Temple finished the 2011 MAC season with a 9-4 record, including a 37-15 New Mexico Bowl victory over the Wyoming Cowboys.
The team’s success led to three players being drafted into the NFL. Tailback Bernard Pierce, selected 84th overall, will join former Rutgers star Ray Rice in the Baltimore Ravens backfield. Tight End Evan Rodriquez was selected 111th overall by the Chicago Bears, and linebacker Tahir Whitehead went 138th overall to the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately for the Owls, more than half of last year’s starters are gone.
Head coach Steve Addazio took the reins from Al Golden at the start of 2011 season. Previously, Addazio had been the offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators under Urban Meyer. A Connecticut native, he has a long history coaching high school and college teams in the northeast. Addazio is also regarded as a top recruiter, which ultimately will be beneficial. The Owls one deficiency compared to the veteran Big East teams they’ll face this fall is roster depth.
The offense seems likely to be led by quarterback Chris Coyer, who assumed the starting role last year as a sophomore. Former Penn State quarterback Kevin Newsome will transfer to Temple in the fall and could challenge Coyer for the starting role.
Senior tailback Matt Brown has high expectations taking over for Pierce as the primary ball carrier. He ran for over 900 yards and scored six touchdowns as Pierce’s backup last year. Another player to watch in training camp is wide receiver JalenFitzpatick. He played in eleven games last season as a true freshman.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Ahkeem Smith is the leader, but redshirt freshman linebacker Nate Smith had a great spring session.
Temple has an eleven game schedule, the result of the late switch from the MAC to the Big East. Nonconference opponents are Villanova and Maryland at Lincoln Financial Field, and trips to Penn State and Army. The Big East schedule has four home games: USF, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Syracuse. The Owls travel to play UConn, Pitt and Louisville.
Temple is a team with a lot of promise, but the leap up in level of competition is likely to lead to frustration this season. With so much parity in the conference, expect the other Big East teams to circle the Temple game date on their calendars as “must” wins. Those teams that come up short against will likely fall from contention in the conference.
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.