Each week, we'll be holding a roundtable discussion with TNIAAM's football "experts" to get a read on the program's most pressing issues on- and off-the-field. Have differing opinions? Feel free to share them in the comments.
Who was your standout/impact player from Friday's Pitt game?
Jeremy Ryan: Brandon Sharpe was the player of the game, but I'm going to go in a different direction and tab Brandon Reddish. Coming off a nearly three-week layoff he was a factor in the SU defense's strong second half, including a huge fourth quarter sack which helped seal the win.
Matt McClusky: I'll go with Jerome Smith, who was as consistent a running back Syracuse has had all season. Yes, Smith only ran for 60 yards, but he did enough to at least have Pitt worry about the run game and back off, just a little, from blitzing Ryan Nassib. In fact, I think the entire stable of backs, including Smith, Prince Tyson Gulley, and Adonis Ameen-Moore, had an effective game. One that can give Orange fans some hope for the rest of the season. If Friday was any indication of how the rest of the season will go, maybe Nassib will really benefit from the added dimension.
Andy Pregler: Jerome "The Bus" Smith had a great game...when he was able to touch the ball. I personally saw the Pitt game unfolding into a gritty, run the ball down your throat kind of game and on his limited touches, Smith could do that. Now Marrone and Co. must know something I don't or else I think Smith would've gotten more carries. The other obvious choice is the defensive line especially Brandon Sharpe. That was the kind of performance the Orange could use every week.
Chris Daughtrey: I'm going with a D-line as a whole, with special gold stars for Jay Bromley and Zian Jones. They were able to put pressure on Tino Sunseri and were the biggest part of limiting Ray Graham to just 57 rushing yards. So, basically, the D-line was able to do all the things they hadn't done until now. Let's hop they keep it up.
Sean Keeley: Gotta point to Brandon Sharpe. The DE immediately jumped to the top of the list of Syracuse defenders to keep an eye on with his multi-sack performance that was among the best single-game performances any SU defender has ever had. Of course, he got a lot of help from his teammates but he made it happen. The Orange put tons of pressure on Sunseri and helped bottle up Ray Graham behind Sharpe's performance.
John Cassillo: Feel free to call this a cop-out, but I'm going with Dyshawn Davis. After the first drive, the offense completely stalled. But Davis's fumble-recovery-turned-touchdown ended up being the difference-maker in a one-point win. Had it not been for that heads-up play, we may have seen a much different result.
It's still early, but where will Ryan Nassib finish in the pantheon of Syracuse QBs?
JR: Statistically speaking he'll finish his career at the top of many individual categories, especially single game and single season. But will he be remembered in the same way as QBs like Don McPherson and Donovan McNabb? It's doubtful, mostly because of the lack of team success. That's not necessarily his fault, but just how we tend to remember players from better teams more vividly.
MM: Unless SU can pull out a bowl game, maybe even a bowl win, this season, I think Nassib will probably rank somewhere above players like RJ Anderson and Todd Philcox, but far below the Donovan McNabbs and Don McPhersons of the world.
AP: I really though hard about this question and ultimately, you remember quarterbacks by wins, trophies, jump to NFL, and stats in that order. I wasn't alive when McPherson was QB and didn't watch Syracuse when McNabb was at the helm but those are the guys who have all four of those criteria for a great quarterback. Statistically, Nassib will be one of the best in 'Cuse history. But ultimately, he hasn't won a whole lot, only has a Pinstripe Bowl, and probably won't be more than a backup in the NFL. I like Nassib and will always remember him, but he'll be that name on the stat sheet that everyone looks at and calls a fluke or product of a more pass heavy offense.
CD: I don't think that there's a question that he'll finish as the most statistically accomplished QB in SU history when it comes to passing numbers. That distinction has to be taken with a grain of salt since all the rest of the Syracuse greats played the option and Nassib has played is a much more pass-oriented offense. Still, you have to give credit where it's due. Whatever struggles Syracuse has had over Nassib's time under center, you can't say that he's mostly to blame. Sure, he's made his share of bad plays. But I think he'll go down as a great player who, unfortunately, didn't have the supporting cast to garner a lot of W's.
SK: I think it's reasonable to say he will go down as the Best Of The Second Tier. The elite are Don McPherson, Donovan McNabb and Marvin Graves. After that is Bernie Custis, Bill Hurley, Perry Patterson and Todd Norley. Nassib will have the stats to stand tall over just about every guy in that second tier. He might even have stats that are better than the guys in the top tier but his reign doesn't have the je ne sais quoi, not to mention the important bowl games and awards, that those other guys got.
JC: Talent-wise and stats-wise, Nassib will look like a top-five guy. And maybe he is. But I'm willing to wait until the end of the season to write his final chapter in Syracuse lore. Anything can happen in our remaining seven games. Should Nassib deliver an epic string of victories and a major bowl win (knock on wood), his stature obviously grows and he becomes the poster child of the Marrone regime. If we miss the postseason again, much of his career will be defined by a failure to execute.
Biggest surprise in the Big East thus far?
JR: Not to take anything away from last week's Syracuse win, but wasn't Pittsburgh supposed to be better than this?
MM: Is there any question that Rutgers is the biggest surprise? A new coach, significant losses on both sides of the ball, and a three game road trip to start the year? Yes, the Scarlet Knights haven't really played anyone of note (beating Arkansas in Fayetteville sounds so much better than it is) and their offense is a definite Achilles Heel, but who would have guessed coach Kyle Flood would have this team ranked?
AP: I think just how unimpressively Rutgers, Cincy, and Louisville have risen. You look at the perfect records and initially say, "Wow they must be good", and then proceed to look at who they've beaten and how they did it and think in the back of your mind, "hmmmm Cuse could pull the upset". If Cuse beats the opponents they're supposed to (USF, UConn, Temple) the Orange only need to defeat one of these upstart Big East squads. What's surprising is that no one would be shocked if the Orange did. I do think Rutgers is for real with Cincy being the team that doesn't belong.
CD: I'll go with the fact that Temple isn't totally stinking up the joint. Coach Steve Adazzio has the owls playing something that resembles real football. The loss to Penn State was a tough one and the Maryland game was close as well. The very fact that Temple is back in the Big East is surprising in itself, given how they were unceremoniously booted for being terrible. Being relegated to the MAC has to hurt.
SK: Probably USF being as bad as they are. They were my trendy pick to win the Big East and I really should stop bringing that up. By all accounts, they should be competing for the conference title by now, not competing with us, UConn and Temple for the conference basement. Skip Holtz is gonna be in deep trouble if he can get them to a bowl game this season. I'm not as surprised by Rutgers mostly because their schedule has been relatively soft and I figured Cincinnati would be pretty decent.
JC: The biggest surprise in the Big East may be that it's avoided punching-bag status despite having an inferior group of eight teams (yes, even us). Other leagues like the Big Ten and ACC have struggled to the point where critics are much more drawn to those stories, so it's deferred attention from the Big East for once. And having three undefeated teams doesn't hurt either. The fact that Cincy is the best of those squads is also its own surprise (bring on the hate, Rutgers!).
Rutgers is 5-0. But given their opponents up to this point, does that mean anything?
JR: Not really. The Big East is so weak that anyone can be beaten on any given week. It's like the inverse of Big East basketball the past few seasons, where conference teams beat each other up during the regular season but then get 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament. This year Rutgers or Louisville (or Syracuse) could feasibly run the table in the Big East and then get smoked in a BCS bowl game.
MM: As in the previous question, I don't think there is too much of a question Rutgers is at the very least a competitive team. Is it really one of the best twenty teams in the country? Probably not, but I still think Rutgers is on the path to a much better than expected season. And I think coach Flood is probably someone to look out for...that is for the other teams not leaving the Big East after this season.
AP: As I eluded to above, Rutgers is a 5-0 team that doesn't impress you. However, I do think they are for real. At the beginning of the season, everyone said that if Gary Nova was good, this team should win the Big East. Well their defense is probably the best in the conference and Nova is for real. This will probably be the toughest game on the schedule for Cuse outside of USC, but the crazy think about the Big East is that if Syracuse wins, how surprised would you really be? That's why Rutgers won't get any respect unless they finished undefeated in convincing fashion.
CD: Of course it does. Yeah, they played Tulane and Howard. But that's no different than Florida State blowing out Murray State and Savannah State. After that, Thr Scarlet Knights have played two conference games and one against Arkansas. There was no way to know that the Razorbacks were going to sh*t the bed that badly this season. And, when it comes down to it, it's all about W's. As much as we talk about how Syracuse could've/should've won this or that game, Rutgers did win their games. You have to give them credit for that.
SK: Yes and no. On one hand, Syracuse can't talk because Rutgers did what we couldn't. They won the games they should have won. By comparison, we should be 4-1 right behind them, but we're 2-3. Also, while Arkansas isn't very good, they're still loaded with SEC talent and that game was in a hostile stadium, so they do get credit for that win. I don't think they're the 20th best team in the nation but I do think they're a decent team.
JC: My strong words in the previous comment aside, Rutgers is still a quality team this season, fully capable of winning eight or nine games on the strength of their top-flight defense alone. Their joke of a non-conference schedule is what may propel them to a 10- or 11-win season, warranted or not, however. At 5-0 right now, they should be considered a Big East title contender, but nothing more until they record a quality win (no, we don't really count).
Which Rutgers player should we be most focused on come Saturday's matchup?
JR: Quarterback Gary Nova is slinging the football around at a 61% clip with ten touchdowns and two interceptions in five games. Rutgers runs approximately 30 pass plays a game, and they're very efficient and productive when Nova drops back to throw.
MM: I'll go a little more broad and say I'm focused on Syracuse's offensive line. With Justin Pugh back, and with what looked to be an improved run-block, can the Orange bigs keep Rutgers from dominating the the line of scrimmage? I hope so, but given the first month of the season, Rutgers butters its bread (that's a saying, right?) with defensive pressure.
AP: Gary Nova is a pretty obvious one on offense but Rutgers' strength on offense is behind Jawan Jamison at running back. Jamison is putting up 100 yards/game so far and after stuffing Ray Graham and Pitt's rushing attack, the Orange will need a repeat performance to stay close.
CD: Without a doubt, Jawan Jamison. He's by far the leading rusher in the conference (15th in the nation) and, despite their success against Ray Graham, Syracuse's rush defense is still suspect. He has the ability to go all Miguel Maysonet on the Orange and will only be helped by the fact that Gary Nova isn't complete garbage the way Stony Brook's QB was. Beating Rutgers starts with containing Jamison and ends with making Gary Nova beat them. I'll take Nassib in a shootout over Nova 11 times out of 10.
SK: Gary Nova, who is a mediocre Big East quarterback. And if there's anything Syracuse is good at, it's making mediocre Big East QBs look like Heisman winners. Nova showed in the Arkansas game that he's capable (397 yards, 5 TDs) but he hasn't been asked to do much in the other games. It might come down to how ineffective we make him, if we can.
JC: Mason Robinson, who handles punt returns for the Scarlet Knights. He hasn't had a ton of opportunities for big returns this season, but then again, he hasn't faced our terrible coverage unit yet. Plus a quick glance at his scouting report indicates a 4.44 40-yard dash time. If given an opportunity, Robinson can and will give them some big gains. I'd prefer not to see this happen.