Being a college football expert can be an overwhelming title. The chances that you actually have the time and ability to cover every single college football team across the country and speak intelligently about them all are slim at best. More likely, you have a collection of teams you know well, or bias towards certain teams, and then you have general knowledge about the rest.
So when a "college football expert" decides to preview every single team in the nation, it's expected that their analysis will usually be less than concrete.
I understand. But then again, that should also make you want to get it right as much as possible. The more you deal in generalities and fall back on crutches, the more likely you'll get yourself in trouble. And that's what many of them do (we'll get to that ESPNU Big East preview shortly). They remember how the team looked at the end of last season, subtract the seniors and then make a snap decision on how the remaining players will do. We read those previews every August and we've been reading them all of this August as well.
Every time, a pattern emerges. Each one begins to sound more and more like the ones before them, until eventually the latter previews just seem to be amalgamations of every team preview that's already been written.
When it comes to the 2011 Syracuse Orange football team, there's three very-specific things that get referenced in every national preview and have been seared into the brains of college football fans as the bullet points that define SU this season.
I'd like to provide a bit of a rebuttal because I think two of them are incorrect and one of them isn't really the whole story.
#1 - Syracuse was only successful last season because they had two FCS teams on their schedule.
That might be a simplified version of what most experts have said in their previews, but the fact that Maine and Colgate were both on Syracuse's schedule when they went 8-5 last year acts as an asterisk to counter-balance any good vibes you might have about the success.
And yes, let's be clear, it did give the Orange a nice leg-up in terms of breaking their bowl drought and ensuring a winning record.
But what no one ever seems to mention in their previews is that the Orange actually beat some good teams last season as well. While you're busy harping on the Maine & Colgate wins, you're neglecting to mention the fact that Syracuse beat a 9-win West Virginia team on the road, beat an 8-win South Florida team on the road and topped a 7-win Kansas State squad in the Pinstripe Bowl.
And if you really want to get down to it, Syracuse was originally supposed to play Virginia Tech last season. They (wisely) pulled out of that game but were left with no other FBS teams to play and ended up with Colgate. Let's assume the VT game stuck and lets assume the Orange lost. You can't penalize the Orange for then playing one FCS game against Maine since almost every other FBS team does the same.
So if you'd like to say the Orange were a 7-6 team masquerading as an 8-5 one, you can go with that. But they didn't beat West Virginia, USF and Kansas State in a vacuum.
#2 - Syracuse will have a very hard time replacing Delone Carter
I'll be the first to tell you Delone Carter was a special talent. If only injuries hadn't derailed his early career, he might have put up some all-time stats as an Orange. He's going to be a solid NFL player, there's a reason a lot of people think he's going to challenge Joseph Addai this year in Indianapolis.
He leaves after providing SU with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons that also produced 21 touchdowns. He was a workhorse RB in the purest sense and the Orange will miss his presence.
At this point, experts seem to take a quick glance at our RB roster as well as previous stats and make the proclamation that SU doesn't have anyone capable of carrying a game for the team.
And, frankly, they're wrong on that one.
Senior Antwon Bailey is not Delone Carter. He is nowhere near as big. He is more East-West while Carter was North-South. He will not emulate DC3 in most forms this year.
But I fail to see why that's a bad thing. Some folks seem to be under the impression the Orange NEED to have a bruising first-string RB. I think they're just so used to seeing Carter back there so long that its been ingrained in their heads.
The general consensus is that it's unclear whether or not Bailey can carry SU on his back and lead them to victory. What's funny about that is that Antwon Bailey was almost single-handidly winning football games for Syracuse all the way back in the Greg Robinson Era.
Back in 2008, lame duck Greggers led the Orange into South Bend to take on a Notre Dame squad fighting for a bowl berth. Down 23-10 in the 4th quarter, the Syracuse offense rallied behind freshman Bailey and his 126-yard, TD performance to pull off the crazy comeback, 24-23.
Here's what I said about Bailey, who was overshadowed in recruiting by fellow freshman RB Averin Collier, after the game:
Ironically, Bailey might end up being one of the lone bright spots that Greg Robinson leaves behind. Maybe the brightest. You don't put a team on your back on the road...in South Bend...in freezing temperatures...down 13 points...in the 2nd half as a fluke.
Since then, Bailey has taken on more of a Dave Meggett/Wildcat-style approach in the SU offense. That's what's been asked of him and he's handled it quite well. He was a great compliment to the power running of Carter last season, racking up 554 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. More importantly, he's already set the Syracuse record for career receptions by a running back with 62 and he gained 622 yards and notched 3 TDs through the air in 2010.
Antwon Bailey isn't Delone Carter. But dare I say he's a more complete running back? And a perfect running back for the Syracuse offense in 2011? An offense that looks to spread the ball out with multiple weapons across every position.
I haven't even discussed Prince-Tyson Gulley, Steve Rene and Adonis Ameen-Moore, the trio of young running backs behind Bailey who all compliment him. If there are holes in Antwon's game, one of them can fill it, be it Gulley's speed or Ameen-Moore's power.
I will miss Delone Carter this season, but I'm not as concerned about our running game as many experts are making it out to be.
#3 - Syracuse's defense is decimated, inexperienced and in trouble.
Spencer Hall basically did the work for me here in his Big East preview:
"Losses on the defensive side of the ball could make a repeat performance of last year's bowl campaign a challenge." That sounds smart, so say that a lot.
Those two sentences sum up just about every preview of the 2011 Syracuse Orange football season.
In this case, I won't argue that there is truth there. The Orange lost some really fantastic players from last season (Doug Hogue, Derrell Smith, Mike Holmes) as well a bunch of seniors who brought experience to the table.
However, whereas most previews seem to stop there, I'd like to point out the Orange still have a lot of experience and a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
The defensive line is anchored by senior Mikhail Marinovich and junior Chandler Jones. There might be a better DE tandem in the Big East, but I'd go to battle with those two guys any day. They both bring tons of experience and tons of talent. On the interior, the Orange do have questions marks in terms of size. However, they also have depth and an extremely-determined Deon Goggins.
At linebacker, the Orange lost two major players. However they also return sophomore Marquis Spruill, who had a great freshman season and brings 13 starts with him. I don't know about you, but I'll take a quality sophomore with 13 starts under his belt over a senior with none.
Speaking of seniors with no starts under their belt, there's Dan Vaughan. What he lacks in starter experience, Vaughan makes up for in total knowledge of the position. He's appeared in 25 games for the Orange in the last two season and is often mentioned as a leader in practice.
And if Marquis Spruill is the example of how a freshman linebacker can perform, than I have high hopes for freshman Dyshawn Davis. The newbie wowed coaches through the spring and fall and locked up that third spot pretty quickly.
As for the defensive secondary, losing Holmes and Da'Mon Merkerson meant losing a lot of experience and talent, but the 2011 version is no slouch.
#SHAMARKO Thomas and Philip Thomas might be the best safety combo in the Big East (and most have said as much). I can't believe they're both juniors already. As long as they stay healthy, both should be fantastic for the Orange.
Meanwhile, Kevyn Scott is deceiving. He was a starter in 2009 until injuries sidelined him. He probably would have been a season-long starter last year as well had injuries not bitten again. Now he's a fifth-year starting senior with loads of experience, talent and a desire to end his career on a high.
The final DB spot is for Keon Lyn and assuming his shoulder heals on schedule, he'll get the start. Lyn is the most untested and most-likely to get singled-out by quarterbacks. However, something tells me Keon is looking forward to that. We expect good things.
Finally, why do I feel like the Syracuse defense won't fall off as much as some expect?
Two words...Scott. Shafer.
There's no doubt in my mind he's one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and, judging by what he's done so far, he's the kind of coach that can make his players play above their pay grade. I put my faith in The Bone Master.