Syracuse Orangemen (2000: 6-5)
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Coach and programCoaches always say that they donít make their schedules. But thatís the way it goes. Line Ďem up and play Ďem.
Syracuse plays both Tennessee and Auburn. Its non-conference ďeasyĒ games are visits from perennial bowl participant East Carolina and Central Florida, which beat Alabama last year. In Tuscaloosa. Worse still, Syracuse visits Miami and Virginia Tech, the Big Eastís two best teams.
In addition to the aforementioned killers, Syracuse agreed to meet Georgia Tech in the Kickoff Classic in August.
The Orangemen didnít go to a bowl game last year, so they wanted to do a little something special for the start of the 2001 campaign. Because there are 24 players on the Syracuse roster from New Jersey, itís only natural that they might want to play in their home state, before family and friends.
Whatever the case, donít think for a second coach Paul Pasqualoni was out stumping for a trip to East Rutherford when his players elected to take the game.
By this time, there are probably some Syracuse fans who would not like to see Pasqualoni coaching. The Orangemen didnít play in a bowl last year, despite their 6-5 record. Even though Syracuse finished 4-3 in the Big East, tied for third, it continued to slip from its once-lofty perch.
Winning six or seven games might be enough for him to hang onto his job, but it wonít endear him to the masses, either.
So, what will the Orangemen do? A lot depends on the quarterback spot. In fact, the whole season may well depend on whether Pasqualoni can get quality, consistent production from either Troy Nunes or Robin Anderson. Perhaps he will have to turn to touted freshman Cecil Howard.
Whatever the case, itís time for somebody to step up and carry on the recent tradition of fine ĎCuse quarterbacks that has included Don McPherson, Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb, to name a few. With so many offensive linemen returning, a passel of skill position performers that should provide plenty of thrills and a defense that needs a little help along the front seven but certainly has potential, Syracuse has everything else to be good.
OffenseWhile there are plenty of familiar names along the rest of the offensive unit, the line is the most experienced en masse and should help some of the players who must step up this year do so. Although none of them received any All-Big East honors last year, the line will feature four senior starters and has a chance to be cohesive, thanks to the experience contained in it.
Right now, it appears as if Nunes, a 6-2, 185-pound junior, is the frontrunner at quarterback, although his lead is precarious at best.
Nunes completed 94-of-154 passes for 1,366 yards, eight scores and 14 interceptions last year. He threw for 221 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati and 279 yards and a pair of scores in the overtime win against Pittsburgh.
There is no shortage of candidates at running back, beginning with senior James Mungro (5-9, 215), who rushed for 797 yards last year while splitting time with Dee Brown (1,031), who has graduated. Mungro averaged an impressive 6.9 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns.
Sometimes, it can be traumatic for a team to lose its top pass-catcher, but when that man (Pat Woodcock) made just 29 catches, the wound can mend more easily. Syracuse has a good stable of experienced receivers but needs its quarterbacks to become more adept at finding them.
Leading the way is 6-2, 186-pound senior Malik Campbell, a former quarterback and basketball player who has decided to concentrate full-time on wide receiver. He caught 26 balls last year and scored once.
Defense and special teamsNo other area on the ĎCuse roster took a bigger hit than did the defensive front, which must replace three starters, including tackles Rick Simpkins and Eric Downing, who combined for 131 tackles, 14 of which came behind the line. Also gone is end Duke Pettijohn, who had 14 stops in enemy backfields, including 7.5 sacks.
But the one returnee is a prime-timer. Senior Dwight Freeney (6-1, 250) played in just seven games last year, missing the last four because of illness, but still had 13 sacks and 18 stops behind the line.
Leading the way at linebacker is 6-2, 249-pound junior Clifton Smith, a two-year starter who paced the Orange with 108 tackles last year, seven of which came for a loss.
The center-fielder spot goes to senior Quentin Harris (6-0, 216), who has started for two seasons now and played in 11 games as a freshman. Harris played in only nine games last year because of shoulder and knee troubles, and made 55 tackles. That was well below his total of 97 in 1999.
Junior kicker Mike Shafer (5-9, 180) took over the placement job last year and made just 7-of-20 field-goal attempts. And itís not like he was trying 55-yarders all the time, either.
Shafer missed 10 tries from 40 yards or closer last year, including a pair from inside the 30. If he doesnít improve quickly, heíll be giving up his job to redshirt freshman Colin Barber (6-1, 192).
Bottom lineThe key is the quarterback position. If Nunes or Anderson can play consistently and make use of the Orangeís deep crop of receivers, Syracuse will score points. It could become a formidable team, thanks to a defense that should make big plays, and if the defensive line comes together around Freeney, pose some real problems for opponents.
Syracuse definitely has talent and depth throughout its roster. That has never been the trouble. Because the Orange offense demands so much out of the quarterback, both running and passing, play at that position has become the key that often determines whether Syracuse will be successful. Whoever takes the snaps must be good, or Syracuse wonít be.