EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 14th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
It's hard to imagine that Syracuse could have gotten more out of the 2010 season than the Orange did. With a group picked by the league's coaches to finish seventh (and just one vote away from last) prior to the season, SU won four league road games - including at WVU and South Florida - played in a bowl for the first time in six years and won it, beating Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
There could be some issues with repeating that, however. Were it not for wins over Maine and Colgate (really, on the same schedule?) Syracuse wouldn't even have had a winning record. And what's up with going 0-3 in Big East home games?
Most significantly, though, the Orange must replace 1,000-yard rusher Delone Carter and more than half of the starting defense. But third-year coach Doug Marrone likes to keep things pretty basic, so perhaps plugging in replacements won't be that big a deal.
The best thing going for Syracuse is probably 6-foot-2, 227-pound junior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who isn't going to wow anyone with his throws (although he did pass for more than 2,300 yards and 22 touchdowns), but proved a year ago that he is a more than capable leader of a few-frills offense. He also has four starting offensive linemen returning to protect him and open holes for the running game.
This is an offense, however, that needs a dependable back. Attempting to replace Carter will be 5-7, 197-pound Antwon Bailey, who rushed for 554 yards and caught 35 passes a year ago. He'll have fullback Adam Harris in front of him again, so pounding the ball is probably still the way the Orange will go. It won't be one-dimensional, though, because five returning players - including backs and tight ends - caught at least 25 passes last year, led by wideout Van Chew's 41.
On defense, there are some big holes to fill on a unit that ranked in the Top 20 last season, including two departed starters at every level - the line, linebackers and secondary. Ends Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich anchor the front and there is a group of safeties that match up with anyone's. But All-Big East linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith are gone, as are both corners from the country's No. 7 pass defense, one that intercepted WVU QB Geno Smith three times last year, his only game with more than one pick.
Four of Syracuse's first five games are at home, but the one road trip is a doozy: at Southern California. ... The Orange lost four-year starting punter Rob Long and the best punter on the roster in the spring was sophomore Shane Raupers, a javelin thrower on the track team and a former scholarship kicker who quit the team shortly after arriving in 2009. He's back now as a walk-on. ... At least one member of the Syracuse team had knee surgery in June. No big deal, though. It was Marrone.