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.
Doug Marrone's job has been a hot topic of discussion lately. What'll it take for him to be SU's head coach past 2013?
Jeremy Ryan: I think he has to show tangible progress. The past two seasons have seen a backslide record-wise from the Pinstripe Bowl season of 2010. If the team can pull out a couple of signature wins over the rest of this year then they'll have something to build on.
Matt McClusky: I've written and said that I can't see Marrone being fired after this season under any circumstances short of an NCAA scandal. I do think, however, that it's perfectly OK for fans to start questioning Marrone's ability. Was 2010, with 8 wins and a bowl victory, an aberration or is the slid that started last season the exception? It's too early to tell, but we can start to have an open discussion.
Andy Pregler: As I said in the podcast, I don't think Marrone survives a one win Big East campaign. Say he wins a few games from here out, and then next season the expectations should be pretty low again since we lose our quarterback, most of his weapons and a, dare I say, tremendous offensive linemen with a meh defense. He eeks out a four or five win ACC opener and he'll be set for 2014. But his seat will be very very hot.
Chris Daughtrey: Simple. He needs W's. I don't think anyone would argue that Marrone hasn't been better than his predecessor, but that's not exactly an outstanding accomplishment either. Personally, I love the fact that coaching at SU is Marrone's dream job and that he runs his program "the right way". At the end of the day, though, his job is to win football games. He needs to get his teams consistently into that 6-8 win range. 9, 10 or 11 would be better, but 6-8 will keep him on the SU sidelines a little longer.
Dan Lyons: I think between this year and next, he probably needs to make another bowl. That's easier said than done since we need to finish 5-3 or better this season to accomplish that, and we enter the ACC next year with a new quarterback. However, I still think that if this team plays well this year, it can make a run this season. The Big East has some solid squads, but it is still the Big East, and a few short weeks ago we were talking about winning the conference with our prolific offense. Special Teams continue to be an issue, but the other major problem, which has popped up more recently, is red zone offense. While hating on Nate Hackett's calls are en vogue, and warranted after the Jerome Smith debacle against Minnesota, Syracuse was great at scoring in the red zone in weeks one and two, and playcalling is something that is easily correctable. Hackett (and Marrone) have shown that they're willing to completely scrap things that aren't working, see: our offensive system from 2011 to 2012. They know what they're doing isn't working, and I still have enough faith in the two of them that they will get better. I wouldn't bet any money on Syracuse making a bowl this season, and it's FAR too early to speculate on 2013, but packing it up and declaring the year a bust after four games is incredibly premature. Ask Jim Boeheim about how that works out.
Sean Keeley: Well, winning the National Title in 2012 is officially out of the question so instead he'll have to prove to SU fans that he can right this ship on the field and at least eek out five or six wins. As for 2013, despite the fact that we're entering the ACC and have a strong non-con schedule once again (N'western, Penn St.), he's going to have to get this team back to a bowl. I know he can survive consecutive losing seasons but I don't know if he can survive three-straight by that point of his tenure.
John Cassillo: Wins. Even when looking at our peer institutions, Marrone's job at Syracuse is starting to lag behind expectations. I get the moral victories and obvious competitive increase, but at some point, it has to come down to wins and losses. If we don't go bowling this year or next, it'll be hard to endorse his return (for both the administration and fans).
Thoughts on recruiting right now? We're currently ranked in the mid 70s, but that doesn't tell the full story.
JR: Recruiting always confuses me. Perhaps I'm being naive, but you'd think quarterbacks and receivers would be falling all over themselves to play in the Dome, with its perfect weather conditions and fast surface. Look at Nassib, Sales and Lemon. Imagine if those guys - or their successors - were legit blue chippers.
MM: Honestly, recruiting news in football has never really floated my Orange boat. Syracuse has never been able to get the big 25 star, Lock of the Week of the Year stud. In fact, it seems even back during the good years of Dick Macpherson (although I don't remember ever reading about recruiting then) and Paul Pasqualoni, recruiting classes routinely ranked in the 50s and up. I know when Greg Robinson was taking an ice pick to SU football, recruiting fell WAY off the map. So that Marrone has recruiting up to almost-respectable numbers can really only be considered a good thing.
AP: I'm not the most knowledgeable on this subject, but my roommate works for Orange Fizz who does know a heck of a lot about recruiting and is constantly saying Marrone knows what he's doing out there. The big question is whether or not we get Ebenezer Ogundeko. He would be a prize recruit especially since Florida is going all in on him. Add in RB Alvin Kamara from Georgia and this class would be a huge boost to Marrone's future.
CD: I'll admit that I don't follow football recruiting at all. Too many players to keep track of for me. And I don't put much stock into class rankings either. Highly touted players go bust in college just like they do in the pros, and the same with underrated guys. I think Marrone is on the right track. SU has always had fingers in Florida and California, but it's good to see Texas getting in the mix. Tyrone Wheatley is a huge asset when it comes to recruiting. The talent is committing. Let's see what Marrone does with it.
DL: Recruiting is going fine. The ranking is largely a result of the class being small thus far, but I'm very happy with each of the players that have verballed to SU thus far. Zach Allen's a legitimate star at the high school level, and he's still a two-star on scout because they haven't updated rankings in a while. Ask Trent Dilfer if he thinks Allen is the 80th or so best quarterback in the country. Players like Augustus Edwards and Austin Wilson are having big years as well at their respective schools. This will probably end up being a smaller class as is, probably between 15-20 players, and Marrone and company are holding out on some big names like Ebenezer Ogundeko and Laray Smith. In years past, we may have gotten eliminated from races like that earlier and we'd fill that spot with a Plan B-type earlier.
SK: I honestly don't pay attention to that stuff. I think we've done a great job recruiting. We've obviously rebuilt the major inroads in New York City. We're getting quality guys out of Michigan and Ohio. We've got this weird California JUCO pipeline going. And we're always grabbing a solid guy or two out of Georgia, Florida and Texas. Moving to the ACC is only going to help us in our recruiting, especially in the South. Of all the concerns I have for SU football right now, recruiting is not high on the list.
JC: The recruiting rankings were actually better under Robinson (somehow), but I believe we are getting better players under Marrone (as evidenced by game results). This year's class gets an "incomplete" grade-wise right now, though, since we're still in the running for several top players. I'll wait until January to start worrying.
Which offense will we see for the rest of the season: The one from the first two games, or the increasingly frustrating unit from the second two?
JR: I'd like to think that as the season progresses they'll eliminate the mistakes and settle into a groove. However, now that opponents have had a chance to scout the Orange was the Northwestern outburst a fluke?
MM: I think it's probably going to be a combination of the two. Ryan Nassib will take control of games and put up big stats, while at the same time, issues on the OLine (which may be worked out with the return of Justin Pugh) and in the running game will certainly hurt the offense. The key is Nathaniel Hackett and Scott Shafer finding middle ground. SU shouldn't need 40 points and 500 yards of total offense to win games. And at the same time, the defense should be able to catch its breathe while the offense sustains drives that result in either points or eat up big chunks of game clock. That balance is key for every team, but only the winning teams find it.
AP: As in typical Syracuse fashion, I will say both. The Orange will consistently play up or down to whomever they're playing and so in games against Louisville, I expect the high flying team but when UConn or Temple line up, the offense will sputter. If you made me put money on one or the other, the Big East has very good secondaries on several times so I'd go the sputtering one.
CD: Unfortunately, I'd have to say the latter. The first couple of games, the Orange had the element of surprise. They had the newfangled no huddle, a pass-happy Ryan Nassib and wideout in Marcus Sales that didn't have a lot of film for opponents to study up on. Now that teams have caught on and have some tape on the Orange, they'll find ways to slow them down. Getting Alec Lemon and Pugh back will help. Pugh should help solidify the line to keep Nassib upright and improve the interior run blocking. Lemon provides another legit recieving threat along side Sales and West. I think the offense going forward will find a mean to what we've seen thus far. Not quite as good as it was early, but definitely not as bad as it was against Minnesota.
DL: I sure hope it's the one from the first two. Even the Stony Brook game, we put up big numbers by the end of the game, we just had brainfarts inside the ten-yard line. With respect to Minnesota, remember, this was the first real hostile environment that they've played in with this offense, which uses a lot of calls at the line. This was also possibly the most rabid crowd that we'll face all year - South Florida's had major fan issues this season, Rutgers and Cincinnati are fine but aren't that intimidating, Temple can't fill half of their stadium, and who knows what Missouri looks like after a grueling first SEC season. I doubt it was truly by design that the team ran thirty fewer plays than it had been through the first three games. I am fairly confident that this was more of an aberration than a demonstration of things to come.
SK: Who the hell knows. In theory, with everyone getting healthy and at full strength, we'll see what this fully-operational monster can do. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I just hope they make good on all the weapons they have and Ryan Nassib's maturation. If nothing else comes from this season, I'd like to be able to watch some entertaining football with lots of scoring.
JC: I think we can be a team that scores 28-30 points per game for the rest of the season. Though play-calling needs a drastic overhaul. Pugh's return should at least help protect Nassib a bit more. I doubt we'll see the same QB that threw for over 400 yards earlier in the year. But I don't see why the no-huddle can't continue to produce fun (read: panic-inducing) matchups going forward.
Biggest trouble spot for this team (outside of stupid penalties and turnovers)?
JR: Special teams. You'd be amazed at how much better the offense would look if they could start with better field position and consistently make field goals.
MM: Certainly eliminating boneheaded plays would be a huge help! But other than that, I'd like to see some development in special teams. Missed field goals, missed blocking assignments, and poor tackling have been huge issues for SU so far this season. I don't know if it's the biggest "trouble spot" for Syracuse, but it's certainly an area that needs to be cleaned up if the Orange are going to somehow get 5 more wins.
AP: I really don't like the lack of pressure on the quarterback from the front seven. It seems as if when we really pressure the QB it's in the nickel off a corner blitz or #SHAMARKO. I'd really like to see Dyshawn Davis step up and be that guy he was last year in the backfield. It will take a lot of pressure off the meh secondary.
CD: Can't really say anything but consistency. Coming to play from the opening kickoff until the final second. That's really the only thing that's costing Syracuse games right now. Even with all the mistakes and bonehead plays, Syracuse has been in a position to win every single game. It's the slow starts combined with the sloppy play that keeps them from getting the W's. One or the other is bad enough. You can't have both and expect to win.
DL: Well...we can't say stupid penalties? I really want to say stupid penalties. I would have to go with special teams, still. They haven't gotten shredded by them like they had been earlier in the season, but the stats don't lie, we're just really poor here overall, especially in both sides of the punting game. If we can't punt the ball well with some consistency, I wish we would just go for it more in manageable situations, especially when we cross the 50, and then just let our punters boot it when we do decide to kick away.
SK: Special teams. We are truly, truly terrible on special teams right now. We're among the worst teams in the nation in punting and kick returns. All of that means we are constantly giving opponents good field position and costing ourselves good field position. It's a recipe for disaster and one of those things that you might not think of right away but adds up.
JC: Pressuring the quarterback. Remember how we got after Geno Smith last year? Remember how we got after Matt Barkley early and made him uncomfortable in the pocket? How about we do more of that? If we're going to miss tackles anyway, might as well do so while calling for a jailbreak blitz.
Prediction for this weekend's game against the Fightin' Byes?
JR: My stomach 1, ulcers 0. Ulcers don't stand a chance if SU isn't playing.
MM: I predict Marrone's pleated, no-wrinkle, Dockers will continue to get warmer near his dairy aire. As for this week being a bye? It's probably good timing as Marrone and the team can take a breathe and try to collect themselves before the slog of the conference run starts.
CD: Nassib throws for 5,000 yards and 26 TDs all in the 4th quarter...after throwing 14 INT in the first three. Sales grabs 68 passes and 17 TDS. The Orange beat the Fighin' Byes 1,000,000,000 to 999,999,999.
AP: Syracuse falls behind in the first to tie the game in the second after some lucky catches and calls. In the second half no one really pulls away and two kicks put 'Cuse up 6 at 20-14. In the fourth quarter, (Nassib) QB#12 engineers a long, clock eating drive to ice the game and the Orange escape in the closest 27-14 game to date.
DL: 36-13 SU. Syracuse drives the ball into the redzone on every possession but shuts down near the goal line every time, so we settle for 12 Ross Krautman field goals. The Byes score on a fly route where WR #9 gets behind Ri'Shard Anderson on a play action pass, and they return a punt for a touchdown but miss an extra point.