Each week, InsideNU will bring you an opponent's perspective on the matchup ahead in the interest of providing a wider perspective on each game. This week, to prepare you for Syracuse, we've enlisted Sean Keeley, of the famous 'Cuse SB Nation blog: Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician. You can follow Keeley on Twitter @NunesMagician.
"What are the realistic expectations in Doug Marrone's fourth season?"
It's a tough call because Syracuse's non-conference schedule is downright brutal this season. After we play you guys we have to take on USC at MetLife Stadium, followed up with Stony Brook (which features former Iowa RB Marcus Coker), Minnesota on the road and then a late-season tilt at Missouri. It's unfortunate that we picked this season as the one to load up on schedule-wise given Marrone's tenure and this being our final season in the Big East.
That said, we have a fifth-year senior quarterback who is playing with the best offensive weapons he'd had in his tenure. The defense should be improved from last year, even if its just slightly, and as tough as the non-conference schedule is, the Big East schedule should be worth at least 3-4 wins (in theory).
The unfortunate truth is that Doug and the Orange might have to take a 5-7 record this season and be happy with that. We're hoping for better but that's the realistic pick at the moment. Marrone is safe for now, especially when you consider just what kind of rebuilding job he walked into four years ago, but next year is going to be his make-or-break season.
Who are the biggest impact players on offense and defense?
Offensively it begins and ends with Ryan Nassib. Nassib is entering his third season as our signal-caller and, if not for that whole Greg Paulus thing, he would have been a four-year starter. He's already etching his name in the school record books and will break some impressive ones this season. The offense is tailored to his strengths and is designed to hide his flaws. However, he's got some things he's never had before in a legitimate deep threat (Marcus Sales) and a do-it-all guy out of the backfield (Ashton Broyld), not to mention solid TEs and WRs. If Nassib can get the ball where it needs to go, the Orange offense can move.
Defensively, while our secondary remains the biggest question mark, SS Shamarko Thomas is the most reliable player on that side of the ball. He's an impressively-hard hitter and has been among the team's leading tacklers for a while now. He thought about going pro this off-season but returned to prove that he's a 2nd/3rd round kind of guy and I think he can be.
What is the Orange's biggest strength and its biggest weakness?
Our biggest strength is probably the experience on offense. We've got a fifth-year QB with two years of starting experience under his belt. Two veteran wideouts with big game experience in Alec Lemon and Sales. An offensive line that, when healthy, will be among the best in the Big East. And a bevy of role players that might not be superstars but have proven they can perform on the big stage. I expect big things from our offense this season.
Our biggest weakness will remain the defensive secondary until we're proven otherwise. Right now it's a mix of veterans like Thomas and a bunch of young guys who still have yet to make their mark. We gave up a ton of big plays last year and there's a lot of atoning that needs to be done. Hopefully folks like Brandon Reddish and Keon Lyn can put last season behind them (instead of letting wide receivers get behind them).
After losing All-Big East running back Antwon Bailey, should we expect to see a more pass-oriented attack under third-year starting quarterback Ryan Nassib?
Well, yes and no. All reports out of camp have been that Syracuse's offense is going to be opened up and less predictable. The big wild card is Ashton Broyld, a freshman with scary athletic ability. He's a quarterback but while Nassib is in control, Broyld is acting like our version of Kordell Stewart. He's going to run the Wildcat, he's going to be there for option and he's going to catch balls in the flat. A guy like that helps hide the issues with our usual running game, which will be headed by Jerome Smith. Smith might end up doing well but he remains something of an unknown quantity at the moment.
On the flip side, we're pretty stacked on the WR front. Lemon and Sales should be our best 1-2 punch in years and guys like Jarrod West, Beckett Wales and Jeremiah Kobena are going to push for catches and playing time.
What should we expect to see from highly-touted QB/WR Ashton Broyld?
Your guess is as good as mine. We know what we've been told, that he going to be a kind-of Slash player. He's taken direct snaps. He's lined up in the Wildcat. He's run the option. He's caught balls out of the backfield. Some Syracuse fans wonder if he'll end up being some kind of decoy as much as he will be a ball-carrier, but, we're very eager to find out. Based on how highly the Syracuse coaches speak of his talent, he could end up being a very special player. He's not wearing No. 1 for nothing...
How has defensive coordinator Scott Shafer tried to replace ends Mikhail Marinovich and Chandler Jones?
Size, size and more size. It's a lot to ask to replace a 1st round pick like Chandler and his cohort Mikhail (not to mention Mikhail's glorious mustache). However, the Orange seem to put together a fantastic plan to do just that. Big boy Eric Crume slimmed down a little bit to get more mobile. Deon Goggins, who played exclusively on the end last season, shifted over to the tackle spot. And then there's three new faces that are going to make a sudden impact. Markus Pierce-Brewster and Davon Walls are two JUCO transfers that are going to be a lot of playing time and be able to prove their worth early on (Brewster is listed as a starter). Assuming he's eligible, Iowa transfer John Raymon will also have a chance to fulfill lofty expectations and get some PT. The Orange don't have a Chandler Jones this year, but we're hoping that we've got a lot of quantity to make up for it.
Admittedly, I don't know the ins and outs of the 2012 Wildcats, so all I can speak to is the Syracuse squad. If this game were being played in Chicago, I'd be much more worried. I feel like this is a team still working out the kinks. All due respect to you guys, we've got No. 1 USC waiting for us next week so we kinda need to sort out our stuff this week if we want to make that respectable. The realistic threat of starting 0-2 does not sit well with us. The Dome should be rocking and I think it's going to be a big plus to play at home in this one. The Orange have had problems getting off on a good foot and putting things together consistently, but if they do, they can win this one. I'm optimistic to start the season so I'm going to say that, just like last time, the Orange win this game with a field goal as time expires, 27-24. It won't be pretty and it won't be all that fun, but if it ends in a win, I'll take it going away.