Coach: Greg Robinson (first season) 2004 record: 6-6 (Lost to Georgia Tech in Champs Sports Bowl) Big East finish: 4-2 (t-1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 31st (178.8 ypg) Passing: 100th (170.3 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 86th (186.7 ypg) Passing: 90th (240.2 ypg)
at Florida State
at Notre Dame
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
9 returning starters in red
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There's a fresh breeze blowing through the Syracuse football program for the first time in 25 years.
Head coach Greg Robinson takes over a program that had run its course under Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni. It's the first head coaching position for Robinson, 53, who has spent most of his career as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. The gregarious Californian with the indomitable spirit seems absolutely certain that the Orange will reclaim its star in the Big East Conference.
"He wants to win this year," said senior tight end Joe Kowalewski. "He said this isn't rebuilding. It's not rebuilding at all. We're going out for blood this year."
Robinson faces a tall task in kick-starting a team stuck in the muck of mediocrity (16-20 the last three seasons). The Orange are rebuilding a defense that ranked 101st a year ago. The offense is adopting the West Coast style with inconsistent quarterbacks and unproven receivers. Then there's the schedule, which includes non-conference games at Notre Dame and Florida State, along with a season-ending road game at Louisville.
"I think a lot of people really don't know what to expect from us," said tailback Damien Rhodes. "From our side, as the players and coaches, we feel we're going to be a team that's going to compete for the BCS. I don't think Louisville is going to come into the conference and we'll just give them the title. They have to play us again. With all the energy we have going on right now, I think the Dome might be rocking if people come out to see us."
New offensive coordinator Brian Pariani spent 10 years soaking in the West Coast offense under Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos and brings to Syracuse a wide-open, fresh approach that should help SU improve on its ranking of 100th in passing a year ago.
While the Orange have a top-shelf running back to base the offense around in Rhodes, their passing game is a work in progress. Quarterbacks Perry Patterson and Joe Fields continue to battle bouts of inconsistency, inaccuracy and each other for the starting job.
The receivers are on the small side, though tight end Joe Kowalewski figures to be a major target. The offensive line is seasoned with seniors Steve Franklin, Jason Greene, Quinn Ojinnaka and Kurt Falke.
This is an experienced group with 10 of 11 players having started or earned significant playing time. Robinson will serve as the team's defensive coordinator. He has promised to crank up an anemic pass rush with a fearless variety of blitzes.
The linebacker group has been shuffled, with returning starters Kelvin Smith (middle) and Kellen Pruitt (strong side) in new positions.
The defensive line will start three seniors. One of those veterans, end James Wyche, has the tools to be a dominant player.
Free safety Anthony Smith and cornerback Tanard Jackson lead an improved secondary that also welcomes back Steve Gregory, a two-year starting cornerback who spent last season at receiver. Gregory still has to beat out returning starter DeAndre LaCaille.
After finishing 101st in total defense last year, this group is expected to be greatly improved under Robinson, a defensive guru.
All-Big East punter Brendan Carney returns. He'll have a more conventional blocking system in place after Robinson ditched the controversial spread formation Syracuse unveiled a year ago. Carney is still prone to being blocked because of his long strides.
Ricky Krautman should handle placekicks and extra points. Krautman has a quick approach and gets the ball up and out, but distance remains an issue.
A number of players could handle returns. Receiver J.J. Bedle looks like he will take over punt-return duties. Receivers Quinton Brown and Landel Bembo were the front-runners on kick returns in the spring.
Robinson's pedigree is built on defense, and that's where the Orange must make a significant leap to begin turning around the struggling program. Finishing plays and flying to the ball are the themes. Based on the unit's performance this spring, Syracuse appears headed on its way to a defensive recovery.
The offense is still finding its personality and strengths. The West Coast offense is predicated on timing between the quarterback and receivers. Neither quarterback looked very good in the spring game, and as long as the position remains unsettled, so does the timing.
With a tough schedule and a coaching transition in place, the Orange will be fighting to stay above .500 in the new-look Big East.