NCAA Football Preview - Syracuse Orange

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Updated: 8/19/2013 9:23 am

The Big East slate kicked off October play and a narrow win over Pittsburgh (14-13) gave the Orange a little boost, but once again, momentum was halted by another close loss, this time at Rutgers (23-15).

Marrone found a way to rally the squad in the second half of the season though, as Syracuse closed out with five wins in the last six games, the lone loss during that span coming at Cincinnati (35-24) in early November.

At 7-5, the Orange earned a spot in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, where they routed West Virginia (38-14). Marrone took advantage of his team's strong play and jumped ship to the NFL, taking over as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Shortly thereafter, Syracuse found Marrone's replacement on his own staff, naming defensive coordinator Scott Shafer the new head coach heading into ACC play.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Making the transition to the ACC is made harder for Shafer and company, as only five starters return on the offensive side of the football. The most notable loss comes at the most critical position, as record-setting signal-caller Ryan Nassib has taken his talent to the NFL.

There are a number of candidates that could take over the reins under center, but it may boil down to senior Charley Loeb (6-4, 215), junior John Kinder (6-2, 187), sophomore Terrel Hunt (6-3, 215), or senior Drew Allen (6-5, 226), who transferred to Syracuse after being a backup at Oklahoma for three seasons.

Shafer likes what he has in terms of quarterback depth.

"I've always believed that you win with character. Character backed up with unselfishness. The thing I like about our quarterbacks is that's what I think we have. I think we have unselfish young men of high character that can help lead this offense into the ACC. What they don't have in experience hopefully they can make up for by being good leaders as they start to get a feel for the college game."

The ground game will be productive once again in 2013. Last season marked the fifth straight year that the Orange had a 1,000-yard rusher and Jerome Smith (1,171 yards, three TDs) is back. The team has another tailback capable of eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in fellow senior Prince-Tyson Gulley (830 yards, nine TDs).

The receiving corps is missing the top two pass catchers from last season and someone will need to step up and fill the void. Likely candidates include junior wideout Jarrod West (43 catches, two TDs) and senior tight end Beckett Wales (35 receptions, two TDs).

Three starters return on the offensive line, but replacing All-Big East First- Team tackle Justin Pugh, a first-round NFL draft pick, won't be easy.

DEFENSE: Shafer is certainly familiar with the defensive side of the football, and with six starters back for 2013, strong defensive play should continue.

The defensive line has been gutted for the most part, but two-year starter Jay Bromley (6-4, 290) returns to lead the charge from his defensive tackle position.

The linebacking corps should be a strength with junior Dyshawn Davis (69 tackles, 13.0 TFL, one sack) and senior Marquis Spruill (64 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) back in the fold.

The secondary returns three of four starters, although replacing hard-hitting safety Shamarko Thomas won't be easy. Still, senior safety Jeremi Wilkes (61 tackles, one INT) will get his opportunity to lead. Senior cornerback Keon Lyn (46 tackles, 10 PBU, three INTs) has a chance to shine as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game returns intact, as Syracuse will once again go with place kicker Ross Krautman and punter Jonathan Fisher. Krautman was 15- of-23 on field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards last year. Fisher averaged 38.4 yards per punt and placed 18 of his 53 attempts inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

OUTLOOK: The Orange begin the Shafer era with a pair of Big Ten powers, starting with a neutral site game against Penn State in the opener and a road trip to Northwestern. The rest of the non-conference schedule pales in comparison, with home dates against FCS foe Wagner and Tulane to close out September.

The first run through the ACC will prove challenging. The Orange avoid Virginia Tech and Miami-Florida this year, two of the conference's top teams. The team's first ACC contest may show just how close or far Syracuse is from contending for the conference crown, as ACC favorite Clemson comes to the Carrier Dome in early October. Other home games in league play include Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College. The road slate features trips to NC State, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Florida State.

Matching last year's win total won't be easy, especially with the Orange jumping up to a higher level of competition. Syracuse should show indications of strong play in Shafer's first season. Just how often though, remains to be seen.

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