This is the first in a two part series previewing the 2012 Syracuse football team. Check out Part II, which highlights the defense & special teams.
Coming off a disappointing finish in 2011, the Syracuse Orange will look to build on its Pinstripe Bowl victory in 2010 and keep moving forward. Some big names are gone, but veterans are a year more experienced, and an exciting group of newcomers is ready to pick up the slack.
Ryan Nassib returns for his redshirt senior season and has a chance to finish his SU career as one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. Going into his final season, he’s currently fourth all-time in passing yards with 5,441, fourth in touchdowns thrown (44), and third in total completions (497). Barring injury, he’ll likely end his career second in touchdowns thrown in school history behind Donovan McNabb’s 77, and first in completions (Marvin Graves is currently first all-time, with 563).
The offense will also look to take advantage of Nassib’s backfield mobility this year. Head Coach Doug Marrone has redesigned things to make Nassib a bigger threat to run, and the more diversified play calling should benefit the Orange.
Nassib lost favorite target Van Chew, along with stalwart TE Nick Provo, but Nassib has a deep receiving corps to throw to.
The big story is the return of WR Marcus Sales, who dominated in the Orange’s thrilling 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl two years ago. He caught 5 passes for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns, but missed last season because of off-the-field issues. With Sales back on the team, Nassib has a dynamic, potentially dominant deep threat—something that’s especially good news since he looks more comfortable throwing the deep ball than he did last season.
“Having [Sales] back brings a whole other dimension to our offense,” Nassib said after this year’s spring game, when he and Sales connected on a pair of deep balls.
Nassib also has senior WR Alec Lemon, who had a strong 2011 season, as well as sophomore kick returner Jeremiah Kobena as a speedy option going deep. Junior Jarrod West, who’s spent much of his time at SU injured, will give Nassib another solid option at wideout if he can stay healthy. At tight end, Beckett Wales has some big shoes to fill with Nick Provo’s departure, but he should be ready to step in and contribute in an offense that often ran through the tight ends last season. 5th-year senior David Stevens will spell Wales.
In the backfield, the Orange lost human pinball Antwon Bailey to graduation, but senior Jerome Smith looks ready to step into his place. Smith played sparingly last year but made a big jump during spring practices, with Marrone singling him out for his improvement after the spring game.
“A good example of an upperclassman coming on is Jerome Smith,” Marrone said. “Jerome Smith had as fine of a season as any running back we’ve had here in the spring.”
He’ll probably split time with Prince-Tyson Gulley, who was the second back behind Bailey last season. Gulley averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season as Bailey’s backup, but only appeared in 4 games before a collarbone injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. Adonis Ameen-Moore, who showed great promise in limited time last season, could see time in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The most intriguing player on the 2012 Orange is do-it-all freshman Ashton Broyld. Recruited as a quarterback, Broyld is an elite athlete who has shown big-play potential with the ball in his hands. At the very least, he’ll see time as a back and as a receiver in the slot. Even if he doesn’t take any snaps under center, his versatility will add a welcome dimension of unpredictability to the Syracuse offense.
“You could label him a playmaker,” Marrone said. “He’s a special kid as far as a talent, and we just need to bring him along where he’s able to help us in whatever role it may be.”
Nassib was similarly effusive about Broyld’s talent.
“Ashton is a very raw football player, the kid has got tremendous upside,” he said. “We know how much he could help us out there.”
The biggest question mark is the offensive line. Last season, it had trouble protecting Nassib and Bailey late in the season. OT Andrew Tiller is gone, drafted in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints. Several key players, including OT Justin Pugh and C Mackey McPherson, are also question marks with injuries.
The offensive line is also trying to integrate some young players, and could be a work in progress at the start of the season. The O-line was the biggest culprit in the lack of offensive points in the annual spring game, and while that’s excusable because of the number of players sitting out, as well as the way the teams were split up, it’s hard to gauge where the line will be come September.
The line will have its work cut out protecting Nassib, but if they can give him time to throw to his platoon of receivers, the Orange will be a dangerous, exciting team.
Check out Part II of the 2012 Syracuse football preview.Corey Mallonee (Follow on Twitter @CoreyMallonee)