By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Make no mistake, Doug Marrone inherited a Syracuse program that was in shambles in 2009. The previous regime drove a once-proud
program into the ground, and Marrone needed to instill discipline and a
positive attitude into the holdovers.
The Orange fought hard in the 2009 opener against Minnesota, but the result of
that tilt was a heart-breaking 23-20 overtime setback. That loss was followed
by a 21-point setback at Penn State in week two, and fans figured they were in
for yet another dismal campaign. To the credit of Marrone and the players,
they were able to post back-to-back victories to close out September, most
notably a three-point triumph over Northwestern. Clearly, however, Syracuse
wasn't much of a match for the better teams in the Big East. In fact, the lone
league victory came on November 21st against Rutgers, a result that surprised
Marrone's first season yielded just four victories, but it is hard not to view
the campaign as a success, all things considered.
"We have improved in toughness and physicality and people just wanting to play
the game," says linebacker Derrell Smith, a team leader. Smith credits Marrone
with the turnaround, and few can argue.
OFFENSE: Last season, the offense was led by Greg Paulus, a former Duke
basketball player who returned home to lead the Orange in his one and only
year of college football. Paulus is now gone, and it seems that Ryan Nassib
will take over under center. Afterall, Nassib was named the starter at
quarterback during the spring of 2009, but Marrone changed his mind once he
got a good look at Paulus. The head coach is now the offensive coordinator as
well, and he will take advantage of the running ability that Nassib possesses.
Mike Williams, a draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will be missed.
Although he had trouble keeping his nose clean at Syracuse, Williams was a
superb talent who dominated some games at the collegiate level. The hope is
that Alec Lemon can prove to be a reliable target for Nassib. Lemon made 29
grabs for 295 yards and one touchdown as a freshman, and those numbers figure
to increase significantly this season. Nassib will also benefit from the
presence of Nick Provo, a sure-handed tight end who returns from injury.
This offense has only two returning starters, and one is tailback Delone
Carter. Last season, Carter ran for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns, proving
capable of carrying a heavy workload. Antwon Bailey will get some touches as
well for a team that will likely keep it on the ground quite a bit.
DEFENSE: With 10 starters back on the defensive side of the ball, there is
reason to believe that Syracuse will take a step forward. The strength of the
unit is at linebacker, where seniors Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith will provide
plenty of leadership. Both are All-Big East candidates, and Smith led the
squad in tackles a year ago (82). Both Smith and Hogue are outstanding
athletes, converted running backs with big-time speed. Hogue recorded 9.5
sacks a year ago, while Smith finished second with 6.5.
In the defensive backfield, three cornerbacks who started a significant amount
of games are back for another go, and that is important considering some of
the talented young quarterbacks that will suit up in the Big East this season.
Mike Holmes and Kevyn Scott are two seniors who will attempt to shut down
opposing receivers, and their elite athleticism will go a long way in
achieving that goal.
Along the defensive line, Chandler Jones is a man to watch after posting 10
TFLs a year ago. He will get some help at end from Mikhail Marinovich.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game is a major area of strength for Syracuse. All-
Big East punter Rob Long, a senior, owns a career average of 42.7 yards per
boot, and he will be a major asset in the field position battle. Placekicker
Ryan Lichtenstein has a leg that is both powerful and accurate. The biggest
problems for the special teams a year ago involved kick coverage and returns,
so it will be interesting to see if Marrone and his staff can improve those
OUTLOOK: There is no doubt that this program is on the upswing, but patience
is advised. After all, Syracuse was in need of a complete overhaul, and
Marrone will need a couple more years to get his players in place. Another
losing season is likely for the Orange, but fans should know that brighter
days are ahead.
"There will be a toughness about this team in terms of how we prepare and how
we play," Marrone said. "We will be a smart football team that plays with
discipline and toughness. We have built a lot of positive momentum throughout