It's tempting to suggest that as long as dynamic tailback Walter Reyes is in the Syracuse backfield, it matters not who takes over the starting quarterback job. How difficult can it be to get it to Reyes and get out of the way?
On the other hand, defenses have a pretty good heads-up on Syracuse's main man. So resolving Syracuse's lingering quarterback and receiver issues and developing a passing game are critical to breaking the grip of mediocrity and making a run at the Big East Conference title.
It won't be easy, especially since the Orange have non-conference road games at Purdue and Virginia along with a home game against Florida State. Syracuse plays just five of 11 games at the Carrier Dome, where crowds are thinning and patience is near the breaking point with coach Paul Pasqualoni, who begins his 14th season leading the Orange.
"We might have doubters," Reyes said. "That's fine. They don't have to look for us, but we'll be there. The most important thing for us is to go out and play with our heart and emotion and bring the excitement back to Syracuse. It's a great opportunity."
OffenseWith a veteran line, good tight ends and a top-shelf backfield, the Orange have a formidable running game that can control the clock and make life miserable for defenses.
It all revolves around Reyes, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate whose profile would be higher if he played on a top-20 team. Reyes is within a great season of becoming the school's all-time leading rusher, which given Syracuse's history is no small accomplishment. Damien Rhodes returns from a season filled with injuries and is a terrific tailback in his own right. He'll share time with Reyes, though coaches are working to get both backs on the field at the same time. Rhodes is the better receiver of the two and can be used in the slot.
The Orange won't name a starting quarterback until August -- and none of the candidates has thrown a pass in college. Perry Patterson, Xzavier Gaines and Joe Fields are still battling for the starting job.
The other issue is at wide receiver, where the Orange are thin on numbers and talent. Jared Jones is solid, but the position is so weak that Pasqualoni moved two-year starting cornerback Steve Gregory to receiver in the spring.
DefenseThis unit made vast improvement a year ago and looks to take another step this fall. Even though change continues to percolate, there is more comfort here than on the offense.
The unit will have a new defensive coordinator in Steve Dunlap. It'll also have a new interior and a couple of new cornerbacks.
Tony Jenkins was a surprise of spring practice and will be a starter along with Kader Drame at tackle. James Wyche is a talented defensive end who has shown flashes of dominance. The Orange need more from him, along with Julian Pollard and Ryan LaCasse, to improve their pass rush.
Jerry Mackey, the great nephew of Syracuse legend John Mackey, steps into the middle linebacker spot. Besides having good football genes, Mackey is a good player. He'll join returning starting outside linebackers Kellen Pruitt and Kelvin Smith. Pruitt is a star in the making and is one of the defensive leaders. He may slide inside on occasions because of his versatility.
Safeties Diamond Ferri and Anthony Smith return. Both are athletic and big hitters. The key is settling on the cornerbacks. Marcus "Gator" Clayton was moved to cornerback from receiver in the spring and should be a starter.
SpecialistsPlacekicker Collin Barber and punter/kickoff man Brendan Carney return. Both earned second team All-Big East honors a year ago. Carney has a big-time leg but struggles at times with consistency. He had five punts blocked last season because of his long windup. Junior college transfer Joe Neumann arrives in August to take over long-snapping duties.
Final AnalysisA testy non-conference schedule and uncertainty over the quarterbacks and receivers put the Orange on shaky ground. But with Reyes and Rhodes, a good defense and solid kicking game, success is possible. The big question is, which team will emerge for Pasqualoni -- the one that blew out Notre Dame to end the 2003 season, or the one that imploded in humiliation at Rutgers?