Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE
TNIAAM's football experts discuss Syracuse's postseason aspirations, most surprising players and recall their favorite Big East football memories.
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 Syracuse's top performer in the finale against Temple?
Matt McClusky: The offensive line! Jerome Smith bulls for 96 yards, Prince-Tyson Gulley scampers for 83, and Adonis Ameen-Moore pushes up 57 yards. That's 236 yards on the ground and it's all a huge credit to the Bigs up front.
Andy Pregler: Unfortunately, only really caught the second half but I'm going to give a shout out to the O-line. Listened to SU Radio Broadcast and they loved how Rob Trudo was playing inside and the unit as a whole deserves a lot of credit for the success of the running game. All year they've opened holes and made the tank formation work. Nassib's jersey has been a lot cleaner this year and overall, a huge stabilizing force to the offense.
Chris Daughtrey: It's hard to pick one guy because everything was done by committee. All three backs played well. Lemon, Sales and West all played well. There's only one QB, so giving all the credit to Nassib seems like cheating. The defense had different people step up at different times. Keon Lyn stands out because of his late, game-icing interceptions, but the rest of the defense did their jobs all game long. I'm gonna go with Adonis Ameen-Moore. He didn't blow up the stat sheet or anything, but when Rome got dinged, AMM stepped up and had a career game. So, for that, he gets the gold star.
John Cassillo: I'm going to split this award between Keon Lyn and Dyshawn Davis. After a rough first half, the defense really buckled down to seal the victory, and it was mainly in part to these two. Lyn's two interceptions are further proof of how much he's improved this season. For Davis, his stat line of six tackles and two tackles-for-loss (one sack) doesn't even do him justice. In a game where all of the linebackers were incredibly active in the backfield, he stood out as the most disruptive.
Sean Keeley: Gotta give it to my man Keon Lyn. I love the progression Keon has made this season, especially in the last couple games. Syracuse needed a corner to step up and become a clutch defender and he's really taking the reigns and running with them. When Shamarko leaves, the secondary is going to need some new leaders and I hope Keon can become that.
SU actually has a chance to play in the Orange Bowl?! Your thoughts?
MM: Honestly, this team isn't worth of a BCS bowl game. Is any Big East team? No, but I'd rather see the Orange play in a more deserved game and have a real chance at winning and continuing the program's growth.
AP: OMFG this is why I love/hate the BCS. Syracuse has no right to play in the BCS but as a fan I absolutely love it. I think at this point we're basically out unless something weird happens with the BCS rankings but hey, I'll take the fact we can split the conference crown and knock off a top 10 team in the process.
CD: To me it begs the question of how good is the Big East? I mean, in basketball, we like to claim that the Big East is the best conference in the country because teams 1-10 are all a legitimate threat to beat each other on any given night. But I think most people feel that Big East football is simply the top one or two teams and then the rest is garbage. So, now that we have the possibility of a four-way tie for the Big East football title, what does it mean? Are Louisville and Rutgers just not as good as everyone thought? Or are the middle of the pack teams like Syracuse, Cincy and UConn better than they're getting credit for?
JC: I'm elated that we can even manage to clinch a share of the Big East title, first of all. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment for this squad. I'll be realistic, and know that a) there's a 99-percent chance this isn't happening and b) even if we went, we'd get demolished by Florida State. But it's still great to see the program in conversations like this once again.
SK: While I appreciate the thought, I'm glad we're not actually going. It would be embarrassing for us to play a 10/11-win team in the Orange Bowl and hear about how terrible we are for a month leading up to the game. The other team would be favored by 15 points and it wouldn't be a fun lead-up. It's the thought that counts here. For now, at least, I'm happy with the Pinstripe Bowl.
Which potential bowl opponent are you most concerned about?
MM: Well, I'd be concerned for the lack of interest in playing an Ole Miss or Duke, or, God forbid, Louisiana Monroe (although I understand ULM is a very good team). But we all want West Virginia and I'm hoping that's what shakes out.
AP: Personally, for all of the points WVU has put up, I'm worried about Ole Miss. This is a team that preseason saw a lot of love and really failed to live up to expectations. They're also an SEC team meaning that their record automatically fails to show just how talented they really could be. I think they present the toughest challenge based off their inconsistency and lack of knowledge on the true talent level they bring to the gridiron.
CD: I say West Virginia for one reason and one reason only: The Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. I don't lack confidence in Syracuse's ability to win the game. It's just that my favorite part of the drubbing the Orange gave the 'Neers last season was that it won Syracuse permanent ownership of the hardware. I'd hate to have to give it back on account of some third tier bowl game.
JC: Baylor and West Virginia both really concern me due to their respective high-powered offenses. Now, neither play defense either, but considering how well our secondary's played in recent weeks, I'd hate for them to end the year on a terrible note, getting torched by Geno Smith or Nick Florence. Still, they're both teams hovering around .500, so we should be pretty evenly matched. Though I'm pretty sure WVU's still pissed about last year too, which could add some additional fire to a potential Schwartzwalder Trophy rematch.
SK: Certainly, West Virginia. Despite their record, they probably would have gone 8-4/9-3 if they were still in the Big East. The good news is that we could put 40 on that defense but the bad news is that their offense could do the same to us. And I'd be nervous about losing the Schwartzwalder since this really probably would be the last time we'd play for a long time.
Who is the Orange player that's surprised you most in 2012?
MM: Alec Lemon. Not that we all didn't see his talent before this season, but the way he came on just when the season looked lost was amazing. Lemon became Syracuse's Mr. Clutch and without him the team is certainly not going to a bowl.
AP: I was personally really surprised with the insane production of Alec Lemon down the stretch. I know that Marcus Sales dropped off but part of that had to be because everything you threw to Lemon he caught and was relatively open for. Having that kind of slot receiver really makes an offense click and furthermore, it helped Nassib feel extremely comfortable in the pocket. His performance in the Mizzou game won't be forgotten anytime soon.
CD: Let's say Jerome Smith. Granted, his first couple years he was behind two legitimate featured backs in Delone Carter and Antwan Bailey, so Rome was limited to his role as the power back. But I think most people were looking toward PTG to be the next 1000 yard back at SU. I was impressed with the way Smith stepped up and seized the role of featured back when the position was up for grabs. And once he had it, he went on a tear.
JC: There was always a chance that Brandon Sharpe could come on strong this season, but I'm not sure any of us saw him as a game-changer on the defensive line. Sacks aside, he had 13.5 tackles-for-loss, and managed to actively disrupt the passing game, even if he didn't always get to the quarterback.
Best part? He's only a sophomore, so this may end up being the prelude to a monster college career for him. (Ed Note: reading failure on my part) While we certainly can't claim he equaled Chandler Jones's production, it was still great to get a solid pass-rush, especially in the second half of the season.
SK: Is it weird that it's Ryan Nassib? We really can't overlook how different and developed he is as a quarterback now than he was a year ago. He has blossomed into everything we hoped he would and parlayed his career into an NFL opportunity. Remember when he was a freshman? Would have ever thought he's one day be a draft possibility?
Now that we've played our last conference game, what's your favorite Big East football memory?
MM: I'll certainly never forget the comeback win against Virginia Tech in '98, the first Big East win against Miami (in Florida for that matter), or Diamond Ferry's amazing day against B.C. But I'll go with Syracuse's win at West Virginia in 1992. The crowd was throwing Oranges and batteries, there was a near bench clearing brawl (which should have resulted in Marvin Graves' ejection but somehow didn't), and SU somehow hung on to win the game. At that point, with that type of real team v. team hatred, I thought Big East football would last -- boy was I wrong.
AP: You're talking to the newbie here. I followed Big 12 football seriously for so long, my first real BE memory was the de facto Pitt-Cincy championship game. If I had to pick one, it would be the WVU game from last year. It was great to be in the student section, it was amazing to watch Syracuse play so dominantly and it was really fun to have friends at home talk about Syracuse, football and great in one sentence.
CD: I'm gonna say the 3OT win in the Dome over Virginia Polytechnic in 2002. It's not so much my favorite as it is my most memorable because I remember exactly where I was when it happened (not the Dome, unfortunately). Damien Rhodes getting the go-ahead scores on a 25 yard TD run and a 2-pt conversion, then VaTech throwing a pick to end it. Say what you want about Troy Nunes, but he really was a magician that day.
JC: While I enjoyed Syracuse football before I was a student, it's difficult to say my hopes rose and fell with them as they did while I was there, and since I've graduated -- so we're going with a more recent game. My buddies from SU and I were in Vegas the weekend of the 2011 'Cuse-West Virginia game, so we had the game up on the big screen at the Monte Carlo's sports bar (Rutgers was relegated to a side TV, naturally). What started out as a chance to pull an upset, turned into a rout, and we were losing our minds in the middle of a room full of people who couldn't have cared less about the game. Though it wasn't a turning point, it sure felt like it was at the time, and we felt it was a reward for buying season tickets from '06 through '09 (11 total wins).
SK: I've gone into great detail in the past (and in my book) that the 1998 Virginia Tech win was the greatest live game experience of my life. Not only was the game and the finish amazing but I had smuggled my mom into the student section to watch it with me. When McNabb hit Brominki to win the game and secure the Big East crown, my mom and I stormed the field and she high-fived Donovan. I can't top that.