SU Football: Talking Syracuse With Athlon Sports

About a month removed from training camp, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Syracuse Orange football team. Fans seem cautiously optimistic for 2013, while experts seem cautiously...pessimistic. So let's go to the experts for guidance on the upcoming season.

Jerome Smith, Prince Tyson-Gulley, Dyshawn Davis, Jay Bromley, and even Ross Krautman. Returning talent; returning stars. And some of the main reasons Syracuse Orange fans should smile when thoughts of the 2013 season dance through their heads.

But then again, there is another side altogether.

A new coaching staff, the loss of a record-holding three year starter at quarterback, an entire side of the offensive line...gone. A new conference. Just some of the reasons for Syracuse Orange fans to have some reservations about the 2013 season.

For their part, most preseason predictions have Syracuse finishing with anywhere from four to six wins; a step, or two or three, back in '13. But I get the impression fans are seeing the glass half full, pointing to the enthusiasm and past work of Scott Shafer and to the fact that the ACC, a moderate step up from the Big East, isn't exactly the SEC. Meaning another bowl game appearance shouldn't be out of the question.

So what it is it? Will this upcoming season provide a clunker or will Orange football followers be making road trip plans in December?

Obviously, we won't know the answer for a few more months, but that doesn't make talking about it any less fun! I mean, what's July if not for over-analysis, over-thinking, and over-kill when it comes to everything football. Just the way we like it. And that's why I went to good buddy (one of my favorites from my radio days, too) and editor for Athlon Sports College Football, Steven Lassan, to get a better handle on what to expect.

Enjoy:

(And go buy the Athlon ACC season preview, on stands now!)

  • Syracuse fans, for the most part, have fallen head-over-heels for new coach Scott Shafer, but I'm curious what is the national perception of Shafer. I know he has credibility with his work at Stanford and here at Syracuse as defenisve coordinator, but are there potential areas of concern unseen by fans?

Steven Lassan: Considering the timing of Doug Marrone's departure for the NFL, I think Shafer was the right hire by Syracuse. Most of the top assistants and any coaches looking to move from the non-BCS ranks to a BCS job had already secured a head coaching spot by the time Marrone decided to leave for the NFL. Shafer's hire helps to keep continuity from the previous regime, which is especially important with a year of conference transition on the way. And so far, Shafer has won the offseason and said all the right things.

If there's a concern with Shafer, it has to be with the lack of head coaching experience. Successful head coaches can come from any position, but with all of the transition Syraucse is going through, having someone with head coaching experience would be a bonus. And it's being a tad nitpicky, but only one of Syracuse's defense under Shafer ranked in the top four of the Big East in yards allowed.

I think grading Syracuse's hire of Shafer as a B is a fair mark considering his lack of experience as a head coach. But this seems to be the right move to keep continuity in the program after a successful run under Marrone.

  • Athlon's 4-8 prediction has some Orange fans wondering: are there really that many better ACC teams? They point to home games against Pitt/B.C./Wake Forest as expected wins.

Lassan: The ACC is definitely stronger as a whole than the old Big East, especially in the Atlantic Division with Florida State and Clemson among the top-15 teams in the nation. However, Syracuse is stepping into the ACC ata favorable time. The top two teams in the Atlantic are clear, but the rest of the division is up for grabs. The Coastal is also going through a transition. Miami is still trying to get back to being the Miami of the 90s or early 2000s. Virginia Tech slipped last year and made some questionable moves on its coaching staff. And North Carolina is losing some key pieces from last year, while Virginia has three losing records in four years. I think the home games against Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Boston College are all very winnable for Syracuse. But I do think Wake Forest (15 starters back) will be better this season, and the Panthers have a little more talent (an a year advantage of a coaching transition) in the program, while winning seven out of their last eight against the Orange.

Even though Texas A&M had an easy time transitioning conferences, most teams that have moved find life difficult in the first season. Moving to the ACC isn't a huge jump, and there's a very little separation in the No. 3-7 teams in the Atlantic. But with a new quarterback and coaching staff - in addition to the conference transition - getting to a bowl game would be a good season.

  • Am I crazy, or is Clemson a REAL threat to run the table this year? Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins seem like game-changers and the team has "feel" to it this year.

Lassan: I think Clemson has to be one of the top national title contenders for 2013. Everything is in place for the program to run the table and finish unbeaten, and the season could come down to the Tigers' non-conference games against the SEC. Clemson catches Georgia at the right time, especially since the Bulldogs will be playing with eight new starters on defense. I think the Tigers will win the opener against Georgia, but the finale versus their in-state rival will be the biggest challenge on the schedule. The Gamecocks have won four in a row against Clemson, and the Tigers have not won in Columbia since 2007. The ACC schedule is very favorable for Clemson, but games at NC State, Maryland or Virginia could be tougher than some may expect.

As long as Boyd stays healthy, I think Clemson will be in the national title picture. But I'm not sure the Tigers can win both of their SEC games this year. Even if Clemson falls short, an 11-1 regular season and a top-five finish is another good story for Dabo Swinney.

  • Thoughts on Drew Allen and his potential to walk in and start for Syracuse day one? Is Allen closer to Russel Wilson (in terms of impact) or Greg Paulus? *ducks*

Lassan: I think it's going to be very tough for Drew Allen to have an impact like Russell Wilson did with Wisconsin. Very players can step into a team with a few months to prepare and have a huge impact like Wilson did at Wisconsin. However, Allen should be one of the top transfers and is a good fit for what Syracuse wants to do on offense. The biggest obstacle for the senior is the lack of experience, as he threw only 30 passes at Oklahoma. And with a new coordinator, the departure of two key receivers and the loss of tackle Justin Pugh, the rest of the offense around Allen i sgoing through some transition as well. So it may take some time for the offense to jell this season.

However, I do think Allen has a chance to be one of the top impact transfers in college football this year. He was a top-15 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school, and even though it's limited work, he did complete 60 percent of his throws with the Sooners. Even though Allen may not have the impact Wilson did with the Badgers, I think he will have a better season (and is a better quarterback) than what Paulus provided in 2009 for Syracuse.

  • If it all clicks for Syracuse - QB, coaching, etc, -what is the ceiling for SU?

Lassan: If everything clicks, I think third place in the Atlantic and a 7-5 or 6-6 record is a very realistic goal. Clemson and Florida State are clearly the top two teams int he conference, but there's not much separating No. 3 through No. 7 in the division. Much of Syracuse's season will hinge on how quickly it can navigate the transition on the coaching staff, along with getting a new quarterback acclimated to the surrounding cast. The schedule is tough to start, as the Orange will likely be underdogs against Penn State and Northwestern. But matchups against Wagner and Tulane will provide an opportunity to get to .500 before ACC play begins with Clemson on Oct. 5. One huge schedule advantage for Syracuse is its three sing games - Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, and Boston College - in conference play are at home in November, which will give this team plenty of time to jell on both sids of hte ball. Considering all the new surroundings for this program, I think getting to a bowl game would be a successful year for Syracuse in 2013.

So you're saying there's a chance! If all goes well Orange fans may be able to talk football well into the holiday season. If not, well, there's always ACC basketball and the opportunity to watch Jim Boeheim offend several new fan bases! Either way, it's fun to talk about the upcoming season, and, really, that's probably a victory in itself for Syracuse.

Thank you again, Steven, and everyone, give the man a follow on Twitter!

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