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Syracuse Football Roundtable: Previewing Penn State

Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! This week, TNIAAM's esteemed panel takes a look at the Penn State game and preseason expectations.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There are actual football games being played today! Maybe not our team -- we get to kick off on Saturday -- but real college football teams will be suiting up later on tonight in games that actually count. I'm thrilled. You should be, too.

As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...

Who do you think ends up being the starting quarterback for Saturday's game?

Andrew Pregler: The starting QB has to be Drew Allen. If RGLCL is out of the running, Allen has the better veteran presence necessary for a young team taking on a team that is supposed to beat the crap out of the Orange. Allen has been the heir to the 2013 quarterback job since he was considering Syracuse as a destination and barring a Mark Sanchez style game in Metlife, it's his job to keep for 2013.

The Invisible Swordsman: Drew Allen steps in as the starter, but Hunt will see 10-20 snaps as well. Ashton Broyld will feature 5 plays out of the wildcat, and RGLCL will receive a lucrative job offer from Ford Modeling Agency while standing on the sidelines looking ridiculously good.

Matt McClusky: In two words: Drew Allen. He's acted he part, he looks the part, and I think, although Terrel Hunt will likely be the man in the future, Allen is the right choice. Having written all of that, I hope Scott Shafer makes his choice and sticks with it. Teams with two quarterbacks usually have no quarterbacks. Pick a guy and let him lead Syracuse football, don't be wishy-washy and keep each guy guessing and thinking and worrying - that usually ends up hurting the team at the worst possible times.

Dan Lyons: At the end of the day, I think Drew Allen wins the job outright. While it is encouraging for the future that Terrel Hunt has kept it close this entire time, it just seems like Allen is the one who has both closed the gap and gained momentum in the competition, and if he can play like a fifth-year senior, it really helps answer a lot of the major questions that exist about our offense.

Sean Keeley: My honest guess is that Drew Allen starts but Terrel Hunt sees time behind center as well. I think Syracuse is going to throw them both out there and see what sticks. My gut tells me Allen eventually wins the job but I think we're going to play it loose in terms of who is out there based on situations and opportunities. At least at first.

John Cassillo: It seems that Ashton Broyld may have spilled the beans on this one, though it's not as if we didn't have a feeling already. Drew Allen's the more polished alternative, and as I've been saying for a while: why bother bringing him in if he's not going to start? Hunt will get reps this fall. But if Syracuse wants to compete in the ACC right away AND set themselves up for next season, Allen's your guy.

What are your expectations for a George McDonald-coached offense?

AP: I don't expect anything terribly different from last year: up tempo, lots of hurry up and a very good attempt to even out passing and running plays. That being said, it's pretty obvious that Jerome Smith and PTG will have to carry the offense at first as Allen/Hunt build a level of trust with the receivers. Aside from Beckett Wales, there's not really "the guy" to trust on 3rd and 7. Not yet at least.

TIS: I honestly don't know what to expect. The offense has been shrouded in mystery. During week one, I think he'll tinker quite a bit with formations and personnel to keep Penn State off balance, while assessing our own strengths and weaknesses.

MM: I have no clue, but I know I am all-in on George McDonald. He's been an outgoing guy from Day 1, and judging by his previous successes in recruiting, and the gains he's already made here in that department, McDonald should be ready to shine as coordinator. I wouldn't be surprised to see some no-huddle, some flea-flickers, and some other trickeration. Let's hope the wide receiving corp provides some relief to the new QB and Jerome Smith (who SHOULD benefit the most from McDonald).

DL: I really don't know what to think. We haven't heard much about his style aside from that he comes from some of the same schools of thought as Nate Hackett, and that there will be a lot of pistol and shotgun used. I'm sure that means that we'll see a fair bit of read option, probably more if Hunt wins the job. If anything, I expect the pace of the offense to be similar to last season. He may not have the team going quite as fast as Hackett and Marrone did last year, but I don't think we revert to a slow, methodical attack. Whatever the formations are, I think this team will be hustling on offense.

SK: I don't expect to see Syracuse suddenly turn into The Air Raid. I actually think SU is going to be a very run-focused offense. With all of the sets, positions and RB depth we've got, it just seems the most likely. Plus, I don't know if we've got the WR corp to have another option.

JC: Compared to last year, I think we can expect this offense to wade into the season under McDonald, and take an honest assessment of personnel. We know they'll be running a lot of two-back sets. We know there's gonna be some gimmicky stuff involving Hunt and/or Broyld. I expect Allen will be less inclined to run a hurry-up like last year's, so I'd say prepare for a pro-style offense to fit his strengths.

How do you feel about playing one game per season down at MetLife Stadium?

AP: I'm all for it seeing that almost every other big time program plays a game in a NFL stadium for the publicity and money. That being said, I've not been to one of these games yet but I'm pretty sure that the Orange fans will be outnumbered by the opposing fan base again. As long as it's a top tier opponent that gets locked into a three game deal (Home, Away, Metlife) I'm all for continuing it.

TIS: It completely eliminates our home field advantage, moves a marquee matchup out of the Dome, forces a fan base who doesn't like to travel to actually travel, and reeks of desperation by SU to grab exposure in the NYC market (which we don't need). I love it!!!!

MM: This one is tough for me. I've always been behind Daryl Gross, PHD, and his plan to make Syracuse "New York's College Team" by promoting the crap out of the school in NYC. I mean, SU owns Camden and Watertown, why waste the money promoting there? Plus, if USC or even Penn State isn't comfortable playing in front of 35,000 fans in a steamy Dome, then I'm cool with moving a game a season to play the Big Boys. But I can't help but think What could have been this season. SU needs every inch it can get in game one with the Lions, and a win Saturday could mean the difference between a bowl trip and staying home in this winter. As I wrote, it's tough. I want SU to keep gaining momentum, something I feel is accomplished through NYC/NJ games, but knowing the days of top-ranked teams WANTING to play in Central New York are over isn't easy to take.

DL: I get both sides of the argument completely, and while I admit a natural bias as I live in the NYC-area, I'm cool with it. We're not nearly the only program that plays neutral games... Alabama and Virginia Tech are kicking off the season in Atlanta, LSU and TCU are playing in Arlington, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State have a game in Houston, Arizona State and Notre Dame are playing in Arlington...etc, etc. A lot of those games make a lot less sense than Syracuse trying to further its interests in New York City, and those schools don't have the attendance issues that Syracuse does. Neutral site games are a part of major college ball now. Hopefully it doesn't get to the point where Syracuse neglects the OOC games played in the Dome, and ideally these series would be split 1-1-1 like this Penn State game is, but one game a year against a marquee opponent is fine.

SK: I want to see hard data proof that it's worth it. The attendance & ticket sales obviously aren't worth it. Syracuse fans are clearly always going to be out-attended at our "home away from home." So, show me what it gets us. It helps with recruiting? Prove to me that we're getting better recruits simply by playing this game. It raises our visibility? Show me some kind of evidence of that.

JC: When I was a student at SU, this idea sounded terrible. Now, as Dan pointed out, it's kind of part of the college game. I live in L.A., so rarely going to be able to see them in-person anyway, which also kind of makes me the worst person to ask. Would these teams play Syracuse if the games weren't at MetLife? If the answer's no then either play them at MetLife or replace the Dome. Those are the only two answers if this team hopes to stay relevant. Sorry.

What will the Penn State game mean to SU's season, in the big scheme of things?

AP: In reality, it's nothing more than a tone game: if the Orange win, it will be a young team with a ton of confidence moving into a very tough road contest versus Northwestern. It also makes six wins look all that more attainable. If the Orange lose, it will be a young team that lost a very difficult opening game and hopefully learned about strengths and weakness that need addressing. I think most have chalked this one in the loss column, so the alternative would be a pleasant surprise.

TIS: We are in yet another transitional year, so to me, this season is about playing competitive football, showing consistent improvement, and establishing our place as a strong ACC program. A win in week one doesn't make or break us, but I will be extremely disappointed should we not make a good account of ourselves.

MM: I covered this earlier in the week: Beat Penn State and SU should easily get to six wins. Now if the Orange lose, six wins is still doable, but given the schedule, that won't be easy. I joke about the importance of this game, but really, a win in game one really can change the direction of a season.

DL: It's huge for momentum. Syracuse starts with two really tough, but ultimately winnable games in Penn State and Northwestern, and honestly, I'm more confident that Syracuse can knock off the Nittany Lions. A good performance puts Syracuse on really solid ground, and sets the program up for a 3-1 record before the big showdown in the Dome with Clemson, and would make a bowl eligible record that much closer, which should really be the baseline goal for this season.

SK: If last season taught us anything, it's that a team can change and improve as the year goes along. The team in Game 1 is different than the team in Game 10. That said, this game could be the difference between a hot start and a so-so start for the Orange. Expectations are lower to beat Northwestern so a win here "should" mean at least 3-1 after four games. With Clemson and the ACC slate looming after that, it could be the difference between bowl game and no bowl game.

JC: Ask me after the season's over? But really, this game will be a barometer for perceptions for the rest of Syracuse's season, true or not. Lose, and everybody "told you" this Orange program was not ready for a step up in competition (even though PSU is not in the ACC). Win and Scott Shafer "has this team on the right track." Neither means anything since all that matters is the final W-L record. But college football is very much a game of perception until the season ends.

What must Penn State do in order to beat Syracuse?

AP: Stop the running game. Jerome Smith and PTG are grinders who will fight for every extra yard in the early goings of the game. If Penn State successfully makes the running game a non viable option on first and second downs, they should have a pretty good shot when forcing Drew Allen to make plays consistently.

TIS: Dominate the run game. The Nittany Lions feature a strong backfield led by workhorse Zach Zwinak, and are anchored by Senior Right Guard and world-class "mathlete" John Urschel. SU's interior defense remains an unknown, so PSU's ability to win the line of scrimmage will be a key to their success.

DL: Shut down the Syracuse backs, make the quarterback beat you, and hope that Drew Allen isn't as good as the bitter Oklahoma fans on the internet would lead us to believe, or Terrel Hunt isn't the next Marvin Graves. If Penn State can bottle up the Syracuse backs, it would be tough for any QB making his first career start to take over a game against what should be a strong Penn State defense.

SK: Simply put, knock our defense in the teeth, make sure our defensive line never gets confident, while also shutting down our running game, which basically shuts down our offense.

JC: If Penn State shuts down the Syracuse running game, it's a pretty good recipe for success. If they can complete passes in the flat too, the Orange are toast. It's probably the most cut-and-dry diagram for a victory any opponent will have all year.

What's the biggest key to the Orange beating Penn State?

AP: Stop the running game. Jerome Smith and PTG are grinders who will fight for every extra yard in the early goings of the game. If Penn State successfully makes the running game a non viable option on first and second downs, they should have a pretty good shot when forcing Drew Allen to make plays consistently.

TIS: Be hard-nosed! Play aggressive football on both sides of the ball...look, mistakes in week one are going to happen, so accept it, pin your ears back and have at 'em!

MM: The offensive line. Drew Allen or Terrel Hunt will need time to get acclimated, plus Jerome Smith, and Tyson-Gulley, etc, will need holes to run through, and all of those components need... the Bigs up front doing their job. We'll talk about whether or not the receivers made an impact, and we'll breakdown who won the starting quarterback job and how well he did, and we'll watch Smith's outside Heisman campaign get going, but every single one of those players will only get a chance to do their thing if the O-Line is on point.

DL: Strong cornerback play from the vaunted Keon Lyn, Ri'Shard Anderson, Brandon Reddish, Julian Whigham crew, and finding a way to get pressure on Penn State's quarterback. Like Syracuse, Penn State is going to give a new guy the nod at QB, with true freshman Christian Hackenberg and Juco transfer Tyler Ferguson battling it out for the job, and neither will have seen a division one defense in a game situation. This just feels like a classic "Scott Shafer unleashes the hounds and the defense absolutely blindsides someone" opportunity, and Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis seem like the perfect guys for the job.

SK: That the defense lives up to its potential. We seem to have a decent-enough idea of what our offense is capable of. The defense is another story. I have faith in the linebackers but the other two units are big question marks right now. How they react could win or lose the game for us.

JC: On offense, just run the ball well. We've got two backs who can carry it 20-25 times apiece. If they're being effective and SU's scoring points, then keep going with that. This in turn helps out the D. If we force Penn State into more passing situations, it takes them out of their comfort zone (pounding the ball). It also allows us to let this defensive line go after whoever's at quarterback for the Nittany Lions. Should SU get to generate a lot of pressure, I like our chances.