EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 13th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
Doug Marrone has taken housecleaning to a new level. In his first few months on the job last year, Marrone ushered more than a dozen players out of the program, then suffered through an understandable first season with what was left over. Slowly but surely he is trying to construct a roster of players he likes and who can turn around a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2001.
Defensively, Marrone seems to be further along in the process than on offense. The Orange was actually very good defensively last season against the run (13th in the nation) and in pressuring quarterbacks (6th in sacks). When opposing quarterbacks had time to throw, though, it was disastrous (113th in pass efficiency defense). So the secondary is obviously a priority.
Up front, though, Syracuse is stout, even with the departure of lineman Arthur Jones. His little brother, 6-foot-5, 251-pound Chandler Jones, is a star in waiting, as is 6-5, 245-pound end Mikhail Marinovich. And former running backs Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue are two of the best linebackers in the Big East.
Offensively, though, there are serious questions. Leading rusher Delone Carter (1,021 yards) was arrested for assault and suspended from school in April, but could return if his legal issues are resolved. The one-year Greg Paulus experiment is over at quarterback, and 6-2, 224-pound sophomore Ryan Nassib has the job. But there are few proven receivers, the best being sophomore Alec Lemon, who caught nine passes for 140 yards in the season finale last year.
With Marrone trying to be more fundamental on offense, though, the biggest question mark is the line. Ryan Bartholomew is moving from guard to center and is a stud, but there's only one other returning starter. The middle of the line could average close to 320 pounds, but the tackles are smaller and have no experience.
The best news for the offense might be that if (when) it fails, punter Rob Long can usually get the Orange out of trouble.
Syracuse plays no non-Saturday games this season, which means either the school is standing its ground or no network wants to televise the Orange. It's the second. SU is the only Big East school without a game already scheduled on an ESPN broadcast network (the opener at Akron is on ESPN3, which is the internet) . . . A 3-1 start is a distinct possibility with games against Akron, Maine and Colgate.