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.
At what point during Saturday's win over Louisville were you no longer nervous about the outcome?
Matt McClusky: I'd love to say when SU went on the big run leading to halftime but truthfully I didn't exhale until late in the third quarter. Louisville gave no indication it could stick with the Orange, but SU fans are the most masochistic of the bunch -- and this 2012 team doesn't seem to have a safe word.
Andy Pregler: Although I told myself not to get excited until at least the third quarter, looking up at halftime and seeing 31-13 was the moment. It was insane to think that this was the top team in the conference back in the Dome and we looked better against Louisville than we did against WVU. Once the third quarter started and the Orange never let up, it became like the UConn game and all worries were completely gone.
Chris Daughtrey: Familial obligations kept me from watching the game. But if I had watched it, anxiety wouldn't have subsided until the final horn sounded. I'm sure that at some point the statistical probability of a Louisville win was virtually zero. But the way this season has gone, I wouldn't count out any possible way Syracuse could blow a game, no matter how outlandish.
Dan Lyons: I'll admit, I wasn't 100% comfortable until Dyshawn Davis picked off Teddy Bridgewater. I didn't really think there was any way we'd blow a lead of that magnitude with so little time left, but with Syracuse football I've been trained to always brace myself for the worst.
John Cassillo:Going to echo Dan and go with the Davis interception as well. As a Syracuse fan, I've watched this team blow far too many chances at major upsets (hello, '06 Iowa game), so despite my excitement, I wasn't comfortable we'd pull out the win until the clock deemed it virtually impossible.
Sean Keeley: Not until the Dyshawn Davis interception to be totally honest. Maybe that's just what being a Syracuse fan for too long has done to me but I never felt totally secure until the clock was down to about 2-3 minutes left. Which is insane, and yet, true.
Who's your top performer from Saturday? There are so many choices...
JR: How about Lewellyn Coker? How many guys have recovered a special teams fumble and caught a touchdown pass in the same game?
MM: Jerome Smith! I already devoted an entire column to how he is becoming a full-fledged star. But truthfully, coming off that type of game, you could pick so many top performers. The O-Line for creating space and for providing time, Nassib for looking like a legit QB with NFL hope, the defense for shutting down a very potent Cardinals offense. Still, I'll go with Smith and hope he continues developing into a stud.
AP: If I had to pick one guy, I thought Jerome Smith was the MVP. Just to see Louisville's vaunted defense rolling off him was incredible and a true testament to just how much potential this kid has. I know it's very early in his career and a lot can still happen, but he looks like a guy deserving of the number 44 if we were to un-retire it. Smith has the between the tackles with some shiftiness and acceleration to make guys miss and showed all of it off on Saturday.
CD: I don't feel like looking up the box-score again, so I'm going to cop out and say Jerome Smith. Not only has Rome been prolific over the last 4-5 games, but as Mr. McClusky pointed out in his article, Smith's production is a huge part of why Syracuse has been able to win games. A consistent running attack helps Nassib sustain drives which helps keep the defense fresh. Plus, it helps keep the shaky special teams units off the field.
DL: I'm going to go with Alec Lemon, although you could just as easily go with Ryan Nassib or Jerome Smith. Lemon did a great job of stretching the defense, and his touchdowns were really the ones that put a lot of distance between us and Louisville. After basically being a non-factor in the first few weeks due to injury, Alec has passed Marcus Sales (who has been very quiet as of late) in yards. I wish we could've seen what kind of number he could've put up with a full year. He still has a chance at 1,000 yards, especially if we make a bowl.
JC: Alec Lemon was such a monster out there, especially when you consider he was our only consistent receiver. Beyond the first-half touchdowns, Lemon continued to pick up key first downs in the second half that helped us seal the victory. No matter how many times Nassib targeted him, Louisville could not cover Lemon.
SK: Lots to choose from. I think Sir Alec Lemon was the first-half performer of note while Jerome Smith really helped put the game away in the second. think I'll give it to Lemon, who deserves a lot of credit for a career that probably won't be too appreciated outside of Central New York. If only he hadn't been injured to start the season, we might be talking national awards.
Was this a "program-altering" win for Syracuse, or just a well-played upset of an overrated opponent?
JR: I think it was a great win, but was it any bigger of a deal than the West Virginia win last year? It doesn't mean much if they don't get one more in these last two weeks.
MM: Program altering? No. Season defining, hope giving, all around huge win? Yes. The Orange throttled West Virginia just last year, so we've seen this before. In fact, it seems like SU is good for one or two of these types of games a year under Doug Marrone. So, no it doesn't define anything, but it continues to make 2012 very interesting, which, at this point in the season, is all SU fans could ask for.
AP: Unless Syracuse gains enough momentum to win one of the next two and go on to win their bowl game, this was a great upset win. Now, the above situation is VERY possible and in that case, we could be looking at this game as the Marrone era's defining win. He firmly doused his seat in a bucket of ice and if this momentum turns into a bowl appearance headed into ACC play, we will define this season by this game. Here's hoping this game becomes the latter.
CD: Program altering? No. It was just a well played game. I won't even go so far as to say that Louisville was overrated (not in football, anyway). The 'Cards were 9-0. That's nothing to sneeze at. Still, it's a season-altering win at best. A loss there really puts the pressure on the Orange when it comes to making a bowl. The win not only gives them some breathing room, but confidence heading into the last two contests.
DL: I don't know that I'd call it program-altering. We've done that a few times in the last couple years, and none of them have successfully "altered" the program as we had hoped. I think that the progress is going to come from full seasons and recruiting classes, single games are just snapshots of long term success.
JC: You never really know if a win is "program-altering" until you get to assess the after effects, so it's hard to give out such a broad stamp of approval. We've been here before (WVU '11, WVU '10), and the Orange would eventually revert back to their old selves. I do think, however, that this is growing the reputation of the Dome again. With the number of strange upsets there seemingly increasing (at least to outside observers), it's sort of gaining an interesting mystique that's a bit intimidating to opposing teams.
SK: I don't know what this says about Louisville but we always seem to beat them when they're supposed to be really good, so it's not all that special in the long-term. Where this win will have power is if the Orange piggyback off of it to qualify for a bowl game. If we get to six wins, we'll look back and say it was a critical victory. If we get to seven wins, we'll look back and say that win change the direction of the season. If next season we win 9-10 games, we may look back and say this win altered the program.
Which Missouri team do you expect this weekend: The aggressive one from the last three games or the struggling one from the first seven?
JR: There's no discounting momentum in sports. Missouri has looked good recently, and SEC competition will trump the Big East nine out of ten times. I think Missouri's early season schedule was pretty tough, and their record of late reflects just how good they can be.
MM: It's in Columbia, it's at night, it's a potential season-saver for the Tigers. I'm guessing SU will see a figurative and literal blitz from the Tigers and the fans. Does that mean I think SU can't win? Not at all -- but the Orange should expect a few punches to the mouth. Figuratively and literally.
AP: For the sake of saying that Syracuse will be the Syracuse of recent and of late, Missouri will probably be the one of recent times. Although, a huge OT emotional win could be just enough to wear them out for this week. The national attention Syracuse has received since the win won't leave Missouri surprised for the Orange so I am wary that this game may end all momentum if the Orange don't play competitive early on.
CD: What little I know about football tells me a couple things. One, all but the worst teams get better over time. And two, the most recent trend is a better predictor of future performance. So, I expect the good Mizzou to show up. That doesn't mean the game is un-winnable. It just means the Orange need to play closer to how they did against Louisville than how they did against Rutgers.
DL: I have no idea what to think of Missouri. They're definitely not world-beaters by any means, as their first year in the SEC has shown, but them playing a bunch of elite teams makes them hard to judge since a bunch of programs that we consider 'decent' would have similar struggles with the schedule they've played. Their offensive numbers look bad, but again, SEC defenses. I don't know if I'm ready to worry too much about how they performed against Tennessee on that side of the ball though (51 points in an OT win). Tennessee gave up 48 points to Troy.
JC: Missouri's been riddled with injuries, and in some cases, has been very much out-played by most of its SEC competition. And yet, I'm still convinced the Tigers will continue to improve, and are likely to resemble the team from the past three games. At the same time, we're also at the peak of our own momentum swing (it would appear), so nothing's assured here.
SK: They're coming off an emotional overtime victory, they're at home and their offense is finally starting to wake up. Plus, this game is probably their last chance to qualify for a bowl (with Texas A&M looming afterward). I expect them to channel all of that into a solid performance. We've got our hands full.
How do you propose Syracuse goes about stopping James Franklin?
JR: If the defensive line can apply pressure and contain Franklin in the pocket, they will hopefully prevent him from getting into a rhythm and exploiting holes in the D, either by run or by pass.
MM: Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer came with it against the Cards. Shafer came with it against Pittsburgh and Connecticut and made huge adjustments against South Florida. All of those teams presented major obstacles similar, in one form or another, to Franklin. I'm betting Shafer will have something for him. Plus, given the way the Orange D has played for the majority of this season, especially when Jay Bromley is healthy and on his game, its been a pretty stout unit. So basically, Franklin should expect to see more of the same out of the Orange D.
AP: The same way they stopped Bridgewater: great coverages down field with a tremendous game from the front four. Franklin will rack up yards like Bridgewater did, but Syracuse showed their defense can bend and not break football. He's been streaky this season so I think some early turnovers would be a great way to rattle him into poor decision making later on in the game.
CD: I'll confess to not having seen Franklin play at all. Maybe I'm missing something, but why are we overly concerned with him other than because he's the other team's starting QB? His passing numbers are middle of the road and he's not a huge running threat. It seems to me that you stop him the same way you stop pretty much any QB...knock him on his ass.
DL: Franklin has been fairly unimpressive this year, especially when banged up, so I hope that Shafer has the defense play aggressively. Mizzou has really poor offensive numbers - they only gain 4 yards per play, and have a poor 33% conversion rate on third down. If we can make some big plays on defense and keep them out of manageable situations, I think we have a great chance of winning this game.
JC: Apply consistent pressure and make him rush throws. Easier said than done, of course, but with a banged-up offensive line on Mizzou's side, perhaps we can get a consistent blitz going. Franklin's lost some speed with his injury, so I'm tempted to encourage flushing him out of the pocket and daring him to beat us with his legs.
SK: Follow the Louisville blueprint. Keep the pressure on him, shut down his weapons and force him to make poor decisions. If you can. He's not the QB he used to be thanks to injuries, so I'm fine trying to force him to beat us single-handidly.
Which Orange player needs to come u big for SU to pull out a win on Saturday?
JR: Brandon Sharpe. See above. If he can make it a long day for Franklin, Syracuse might be able to pull of the road win and become bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons.
MM: Smith! Let the big man rumble his way to victory. Ground and pound, control the clock, shorten the game (Cliche overload!), and get out of Columbia with a low scoring, ugly, win.
AP: Ryan Nassib. The defense can't stop Missouri and that's a credit to the Tigers, not a slight to the Orange. Nassib will have to play like the level headed NFL prospect he's been in the last three wins instead of the erratic and frazzled QB we saw in Minnesota and New Jersey. If he can run the Orange offense efficiently early on and make the one big play like he did this past week with Kobena early on, I really like the Orange's chances.
CD: It's worth repeating; Jerome Smith. While a consistent rushing attack from any or all of the SU backs would be great, Rome seems to be the most likely candidate. If he can keep churning out yardage to help keep the offense balanced, the ripple effect will help the whole overall game and give the Orange an excellent chance to win. And since we're slurping Rome today, I'm going to go ahead and say it. He should switch to 44 next season. Yeah, I went there.
DL: Brandon Reddish, although I'm going to take a bit of a cop-out here and discuss some units he's involved in as a whole. While Missouri's really struggled on offense, they've been fairly opportunistic in other areas. The Tigers have eight combined touchdowns from their defense and special teams, including three punt return touchdowns from Marcus Murphy, who averages nearly 15 yards per return. As a gunner, Reddish will have a big role in preventing him from making a big play. Reddish will also spend time covering super-freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham doesn't have great numbers, in large part I'm sure because of Franklin's struggles, but he's still a freak athlete who may be due for a break-out game. Reddish, Ri'Shard Anderson, and Keon Lyn will be tasked with delaying that.
JC: Despite all the talk about defense and the run game, it will likely come down to Ryan Nassib. We're 3-0 when we don't turn the ball over. Nassib simply needs to make smart decisions, and know when to just take a sack or throw the ball away. If the red zone offense can improve on the shoulders of the passing game, it should also keep our special teams unit off the field (always a good thing). Obviously, Nassib's success equals more points and less turnovers.
SK: It begins and ends with Ryan Nassib. When he's cooking, everyone else on offense cooks with him. He's finding Lemon, Sales, West and Wales, all of whom can create after the catch. He's giving Jerome Smith room to gain momentum. And he's instilling confidence in the offensive line, who in turn give him more time to do what he does so well. A lot of people are starting to talk about NFL Draft for Nassib and this game could be the one he officially "comes out."