Syracuse still has a QB battle on its hands, as both Hunt and Allen have shown glimpses of consistency, but neither has really been able to show out above the other. A bowl possibility is still out there for the Orange, but sitting at 3-4 with wins over: Tulane, Wagner and N.C. State, and losses to Penn State, Northwestern, Georgia Tech and Clemson show what this team is---average at best.
The remaining schedule has Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Florida State, BC and Maryland. The game against FSU is a near certain loss, so that means three out of the remaining four games against the other teams need to be won in order to go bowling.
Saturday is Donovan McNabb day at the Carrier Dome, and it will be rocking for sure against the Deacs. Much like Wake Forest, it is nearly a must-win for the Orange, and I think they will bring close to their A-Game. Not sure how the game will turn out, but I think it should be an entertaining game for sure.
The last time Wake Forest traveled to Syracuse to take on the Orange, it left with an injured quarterback, and a 36-29 season opening loss in OT.
Tanner Price will no doubt be looking for revenge from the last time when he could not finish the game and bring the Deacs home with a victory.
The series between the Orange and Deacons is tied at 1-1 overall, with Wake taking the season opener in 2006 20-10, en route to an 11-3 record, ACC Championship, and a BCS Orange Bowl berth.
Doug Marrone was hired away from Syracuse to become the new Buffalo Bills coach, and Scott Shafer was tabbed to replace him as the head coach.
Perhaps the biggest question that Shafer needs to answer is who will succeed Ryan Nassib as the Orange QB.
Overall, Syracuse is facing several of the same issues that N.C. State is facing. Each still have not named its quarterback for the year, and have a head coach in his first year at the school.
It looks to be a transitional year for the Orange in its first year in the ACC, but Scott Shafer appears to be a coach that has the skills and tools to motivate and lead this team to bigger and better things in the future.
Once again, the offense is hard to judge right now because there has not been a QB named yet by Coach Shafer.
Drew Allen is a fifth year senior transfer from Oklahoma, who is very similar to the departed Nassib in terms of a pocket passer. He brings experience, poise and maturity on and off the field.
Terrel Hunt is more of a dual-threat quarterback and played extremely well in the Spring Game, especially in developing a relationship with WR Jarrod West (six catches, 82 yards, 2 TD's).
There is an argument to be made both for Allen and for Hunt, and even rumblings of a two-quarterback system (which I don't think is ever a good idea). It will be very interesting to see which way Shafer goes because it will drastically alter the way that the offense develops and grows.
No matter which QB is chosen, he will have very big shoes to fill after the departure of Nassib. Nassib threw for over 3,700 yards with a 62.5% completion percentage for 26 TD's and only 10 INT's.
Outside of the QB controversy, there are also questions to be answered at the wide receiver position. Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales are no longer on the team, and the Orange will need somebody else to step up if the passing game is going to be reliable.
Seniors Jarrod West and (TE) Beckett Wales are next in line to be the go-to guys. The two combined for 78 catches for 977 yards and 4 TD's last season. Another option will be (RB) Prince Tyson-Gulley, who caught an additional 33 balls for 282 yards a couple of scores.
The strength of the Orange offense should come in the form of the running game. 1,000 yard rusher and senior Jerome Smith (228 carries for 1,176 yards and 3 TD's on a 5.16 YPC average) should get the bulk of the carries with Tyson-Gulley coming on to spell him.
Syracuse does need to replace first round draft pick (T) Justin Pugh, and that could be the difference in an above average rushing game and mere mediocrity.
Overall, the offense has the weapons to do well, but a lot of it depends on who the QB is, and who can step up as the next man on the list when called on.
Defensively the Orange return six starters from a unit that ranked 46th nationally in points allowed at 24.8 PPG.
Out of those six returners, three of them come from the secondary, so the passing defense that ranked 62nd nationally at 233.8 yards per game in the air should continue to improve.
Gone though is graduated senior FS Shamarko Thomas, who led the Orange in tackles (85), and forced fumbles (3). That will be a big hole to fill.
The rushing defense was a strong suit last year at 42nd nationally (143.5 YPG allowed), but the defensive front is a question with only senior nose tackle Jay Bromley returning. Bromley registered 7 TFL and 2.5 sacks last year.
A big blow to the defensive line came in March when Shafer dismissed rising senior defensive end Markus Pierce-Brewster after he was arrested for a felony burglary charge. Pierce-Brewster has 8 TFL and a sack to go along with 32 total tackles on the year.
How well the Orange replace the lost starters on the defensive line could go along way in determining the success of the defense on the whole this year.
Another player to keep an eye on is rising junior linebacker Dyshawn Davis. He was second on the team last year in tackles for loss at 14.5.
In the kicking and returning game, the Orange return nearly all of the starters from last year. The sector overall isn't anything worth phoning home about though, and needs to improve if it does not want to be a liability to the offense and defense.
Ross Krautman returns for his fourth consecutive year of kicking for Syracuse and is very solid. Through his first three years he has made 48/61 of his field goals (79%), and 106/109 of his extra points (97%). Although he dipped a bit last year going 15/23 from field goal range, he is locked in here and will provide when called upon.
The kickoff game is a little bit in flux it would seem from an outsiders perspective. Krautman handled those duties for his first two years, but was nothing spectacular. Last year freshman Ryan Norton was handed the reigns and had 29 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs. His average was shorter than Krautman in 2011, but looked to be better overall in pinning the opponents deep.
The punting job belongs to another returner in junior Jonathan Fisher. Fisher did an ok job, but once again was nothing special, averaging 38 yards per punt, ranking him just inside the top 100 in the NCAA. This will likely take a bump up as he continues to mature and gain experience.
On the returning side of the ball there was cause for concern last year in both punt and kick returns. Ritchy Desir handled the punt returns but averaged just five yards per return on 20 chances throughout the year. Jeremiah Kobena returned kickoffs and came in at a shade under 20 yards per return on 22 opportunities. It may seem like a small sector here, but for a team that is likely to utilize a strong ground game and steady defense, field positioning is very important as well.
Overall Syracuse is like a lot of the other teams in the ACC, especially in the Atlantic Division. The transition into a new coach and new quarterback causes some trepidation and that is compounded by the fact that no starting quarterback has been named yet.
Penn State and Northwestern are the first two teams on the Orange schedule, and that doesn't make things any easier. If one of those games can be won, head coach Scott Shafer stands a good chance at coming into ACC play with a 3-1 record, as the third and fourth games are between Wagner and Tulane.
If the Orange can find a quarterback in Allen or Hunt that can manage the game well and minimize mistakes and turnovers, I could see Syracuse surprising a few people this year. At this point it is difficult to see much difference between Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland and N.C. State, and I think any of the five could challenge for third place behind Clemson and FSU in the division.
I see 5-6 wins as a good possibility for the Orange, and a bowl berth for Shafer in his first year would be a great sign of things to come for the future of Syracuse football.