The Syracuse Orange benefited from a relatively weak schedule in 2010 with non-conference matchups against Akron, Washington, Maine, Colgate and Boston College to earn a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl where they defeated Kansas State in a wild matchup. They fell to the toughest of their non-conference foes—Washington and Boston College—as well as eventual Big East champ Connecticut.
They did pull off a quality win over West Virginia and took down the Wildcats in a wild finish remembered for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on KSU wide receiver Adrian Hilburn for throwing up a salute after a touchdown that pulled the Wildcats within two with a little more than a minute to go. Kansas State was unable to convert the two-point conversion from the 17-yard line and lost the game.
With a cake walk of a schedule and an assist from a curious taunting penalty in the bowl game (it’s hard to say what would have happened had KSU tried to convert from the two), Syracuse put together a nice, surprise season that has some excited for what’s yet to come. The bowl appearance was the first since 2004 and the winning record was the first since 2001—which was also the last time the Orange won a bowl game.
One of the biggest concerns will be the departure of running back Delone Carter, who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Antwon Bailey put together a nice spring, though, lending some optimism that he’ll be able to step in for the departed senior. Bailey is a different type of back than Carter, but he’s been a good receiver out of the backfield and reports are that he was pretty good between the tackles in the spring.
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An offensive line that had some concerned heading into the spring stepped up to replace center Ryan Bartholomew and could even be a strength of the offense. The offense as a whole ranked 97th last season and one of the keys to an improvement will be quarterback Ryan Nassib, who stepped in as the starter last season to pass for 2,334 yards and 19 touchdowns. He finished strong in the Pinstripe Bowl, passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Orange to the win. Reports from the spring have been favorable as he’s more familiar with the offense and has a whole year of experience to build upon.
While the offense seems to be poised for improvement, there are concerns that Syracuse may not be able to sustain their seventh-ranked defense. The starting defensive tackles are gone, as are several key members of the back seven including linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith and cornerbacks Mike Holmes and Da’Mon Merkerson.
The defensive end position, led by Chandler Jones, should be a strength, but for this defense to churn out a repeat performance, the new cornerbacks need to step up after the secondary ranked seventh in pass defense last year, and the defensive tackles have to hold up against the run.
Most expect West Virginia to take the Big East crown this year with big things expected from quarterback Geno Smith in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s offense. South Florida and Pittsburgh should be competitive, as well as defending champions Connecticut. Somewhere in the mix will be Syracuse. The Orange relied heavily on their defense to win ball games last year and with the exception of the bowl game, the offense wasn’t anything spectacular.
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This year, Syracuse returns most of the offense, but will have to replace several key defenders. One of the most intriguing Big East storylines this season will be whether the Orange offense is able to pick up some of the slack as the defense works in its new, younger starters. If that’s the case and the Orange can pull off a win or two against West Virginia, South Florida and Pittsburgh, they could be right there in the Big East mix at the end of the year.