The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 92: Syracuse
Coach: Doug Marrone (17-20 entering fourth season at Syracuse)
2011 record: 5-7 (1-6 in Big East, tied for seventh in Big East)
Look back:Syracuse opened the 2011 season with a dramatic 36-29 overtime win over Wake Forest, then collected a 21-14 win over Rhode Island. The Orange then suffered a 38-17 loss at USC. Syracuse picked up a 33-30 overtime win against Toledo before falling 19-16 in double overtime against Rutgers. Syracuse rallied for a 37-34 win at Tulane and an emphatic 49-23 win over West Virginia, but the team would lose the final five games of the season. General lack of strength up front was a big problem during the heart of the Big East football schedule. Syracuse lost 27-10 at Louisville, 28-21 at Connecticut, 37-17 against USF, 30-13 against Cincinnati and 33-20 at Pittsburgh.Syracuse struggled to move the ball on the ground, ranking No. 95 out of 120 teams in rushing offense (120.42 rushing yards per game). The passing attack wasn’t much stronger, with the Orange ranking No. 65 (227.75 passing yards per game). As a result, the team ranked No. 90 in total offense (348.17 yards per game) and No. 84 in scoring offense (24.17 points per game). Syracuse’s pass defense was relatively weak, ranking No. 98 (258.25 yards allowed per game). The team also ranked No. 73 in scoring defense, giving up 28.50 points per contest. Phillip Thomas stepped up when Syracuse needed the help, ranking No. 3 nationally in interceptions with nine picks during the 2011 season.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 6/5
Defensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Key losses: RB Antwon Bailey, TE Nick Provo, S Phillip Thomas, DE Chandler Jones, DE Mikhail Marinovich.
Top returnees: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, WR Marcus Sales, LB Marquis Spruill, S Shamarko Thomas, ATH Ashton Broyld.
Strengths: While he didn’t put up the best numbers in 2011, Ryan Nassib is an experienced quarterback whose experience should help him take significant developmental steps forward. Receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales are established playmakers who should be able help Nassib if they get enough support up front from the offensive line. Offensive tackle Justin Pugh is a strong leader in the trenches who could drive improvement up front.
Marrone has added some junior college transfers to plug holes and elite athlete Ashton Broyld, a freshman dual-threat quarterback who enrolled at Syracuse in January and practiced at receiver and running during the spring. Marrone and his staff are working to find ways to get Broyld on the field and get the ball in his hands. He could be a game-changer for the Orange if he lives up to expectations.
Weaknesses: It’s tough to win in the Big East if you’re not strong on the offensive and defensive lines. The position groups need to make major improvements in the weight room this offseason in order for Syracuse to move out of the Big East cellar. Injuries were a problem last season and once again were an issue during spring practice, limiting starters including OT Justin Pugh, LB Marquis Spruill, CB Keon Lyn and Lemon.
Outlook: Marrone led Syracuse to a bowl game in his second season, a big breakthrough for the struggling program, and has made sure his team doesn’t lag far behind the rest of the Big East. The 2012 Orange lineup has to get stronger at the point of attack and reduce turnovers to move up the league standings.
Sept. 1 Northwestern
Sept. 8 USC (At MetLife Stadium)
Sept. 15 Stony Brook
Sept. 22 At Minnesota
Oct. 5 Pitt
Oct. 13 Rutgers
Oct. 19 UConn
Oct. 27 USF
Nov. 3 Cincinnati
Nov. 10 Louisville
Nov. 17 At MissouriNov. 23 At Temple
Rest of the countdown: