Syracuse 42 Colgate 7. Delone Carter reminded everyone he’s one of the best running backs in the conference with a four touchdown performance. Ryan Nassib managed the game well enough for a win. The defense allowed only seven points and Syracuse is 3-1. This was the 2nd FCS win in consecutive weeks so that will be the extent of my analysis on that game as Syracuse now heads into the bye week before starting Big East play.
But at 3-1 what do we know about Syracuse? Sure a 3-1 record is nice and it’s not something supporters have been used to of late. But how good is this team? Delone Carter just ran for four touchdowns in a game. Ryan Nassib threw for five touchdowns in the game before that. The Orange defense is sound if nothing else and could keep this team in every game for the rest of the year.
So what does that mean moving forward? Can Syracuse finish 2nd in the Big East? Can the Orange get to that seven win mark and make a bowl game? Can the team finish at 3-9 and not win another game for the rest of the year? In a word, yes. As I type I don’t know for sure where this team is going. There are major holes with this team that drive me toward picking disaster but on the other hand Syracuse could finish as high as 2nd in the Big East. So I’ll make the case for both and let you decide where this team is headed with the Big East play getting underway in less than two weeks.
Why Syracuse Could Finish 2nd in the Big East
Let me get this out of the way first. Why did I say 2nd as opposed to winning the Big East? Syracuse isn’t THAT good, even if it plays its best football the rest of the year. West Virginia went down to LSU and played the Tigers close. No one else in the Big East could do that right now. Look at the rest of the Big East right now. Who is the 2nd best team in the conference?
Pittsburgh? Well the Panthers looked awful against Miami at home. They have a quarterback who looks completely lost under center and Dave Wannstedt as their coach which is always going to hurt you before it helps.
Cincinnati? It looked better against Oklahoma last week but its 1-3 overall and its one win comes against the powerhouse Indiana State. The transition from Brian Kelly to Butch Jones has been anything but a smooth one.
The preseason consensus top three in the Big East going into the season has turned into West Virginia and everybody else. I started the season wondering if Syracuse could pull out games at South Florida and Rutgers to get to 6 wins. Now? No team in the conference is better than Syracuse’s 3-1 mark and you could make the case the Orange could beat Rutgers, South Florida, Connecticut and Louisville while at the very least drawing a split against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Is it because Syracuse is that good or because the rest of the Big East is just that bad? Well, both really. And if you’re an Orange supporter does it really matter?
Beyond semantics, this team does have some solid talent. Delone Carter is no worse than a top three running back in the conference. The weapons in the receiving core from Alec Lemon and Van Chew to Nick Provo and Jose Cruz are all sound and more than capable of having a big day when called upon. Then there’s the man behind center Ryan Nassib. Level of competition aside, Nassib’s demonstrated the ability to manage the game and at times be very successful doing it; he had five touchdowns against Maine. In the game against Washington, Nassib’s numbers don’t look great. He went 17 for 35 for 202 yards, one touchdown and an interception. But those numbers are a bit misleading. A fumbled punt return led to one Huskies score and more than a few defensive miscues forced Nassib to put the ball in the air on virtually every play. Washington would certainly contend for the Big East title if it were in the conference.
Defensively this team is capable of being just good enough. Fortunately or unfortunately in the Big East that’s all you need to have a pretty successful year. The front seven that finished tops in the conference in rush defense last year looks capable of doing just as well this season even without defensive tackle Art Jones. I’ve said it many times before; this unit will keep Syracuse in every game this year. There’s no need to be spectacular, just sound. This defensive unit is capable of doing that.
Why Syracuse Could Implode and Finish 3-9
You don’t just walk away from almost a decade’s worth of mediocre or worse football. It takes time to rebuild a program back up to even middling respect let alone enough to win a conference title or even finish in the top 2. Doug Marrone has done nothing but good things since he’s arrived at Syracuse. This is the man’s dream job so to question his passion would be foolish. But this is only his second year as the head man. A dramatic turnaround of these sorts of proportions would be tremendous but highly unlikely.
More than that, Syracuse has three question marks at some of the most important positions on the field that could consistently cost them for the rest of the year. Sure, Ryan Nassib has been better than expected to this point of the season. But his three wins have come against Akron, Maine and Colgate. It’s far from a murderer’s row of opponents. Now he heads into a Big East schedule where everyone’s had a month to scout him. You think South Florida isn’t looking ahead to its game with Syracuse with Florida Atlantic coming up? Nassib will have to demonstrate an ability to adjust on the fly because teams will catch up with him and fluster him. Unfortunately even if he plays beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, it may not matter if the guys up front don’t protect him.
Before the season Ryan Bartholomew was on the Rimington Award watch list as one of the top centers in the country. Unfortunately for Syracuse and its fans the talent wasn’t spread out a little bit more evenly along the offensive line. Anyone who watches the sport on either a pro or collegiate level can tell you how important winning the battle on the line is. If the offensive line isn’t sound then you’re going to have a lot of problems. Couple the issues up front with a green quarterback and it could spell disaster.
The third big issue that has to concern you as an Orange fan is the defensive backfield. It’s only four games into the season but Jake Locker did what he wanted to that secondary throwing for almost 300 yards and four touchdowns. Jamaal Kearse was the recipient of three of those touchdowns and had 179 yards receiving. The defensive backfield can be had this year. If the front seven can’t get any pressure or rattle the opposing quarterback, I’m weary of relying on the defensive backs to consistently play well enough in coverage.
As is the case for most everything in life, the truth as to where Syracuse will finish this season lies somewhere in between. It would be just as surprising for the Orange to finish 2nd as it would for them to implode and go 3-9. Are either possible though? Absolutely. That’s what happens when you start the season with wins against Akron, Maine and Colgate. It’s been a fun season to this point for Doug Marrone’s group but there are still just as many questions as there are answers with Big East play coming up.
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Written by Lutfi Sariahmed
Prince-Tyson Gulley for the win