by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Doug Marrone could be in trouble. Syracuse is 17-20 SU under his watch, with the Orange losing their last five a year ago. After riding a crest of tight (lucky?) wins to a 5-2 record culminating with a 49-23 triumph over then 11th-ranked West Virginia, the crash and burn down the stretch wasn’t pretty. If Marrone can’t engineer a comeback, he goes on the hot seat.

There is little reason for us to believe Marrone can ignite a renaissance at Syracuse. Considering the administration fired the venerable Paul Pasqualoni despite only one losing season in 14 years (with four Big East titles), the trigger could be pulled in November on Marrone, barring a swift turnaround for the Orange. And it doesn’t look good.

Syracuse was very lucky to win five games last season, with two of those triumphs coming in overtime (one on a botched extra point call by the officials against Toledo), and two others by a total of 10 points. The only decisive victory was the upset of the Mountaineers as a double-digit dog. There’s a case to be made the Orange won’t enjoy similar good fortune again this season.

Syracuse ranked 95th in rushing offense and 90th in total offense a year ago. The Orange ranked 80th or worse in eight key defensive, offensive and special teams categories. They only return a dozen starters and ranked last in the Big East in total, scoring and pass efficiency defense.

The limited good news is that QB Ryan Nassib (right) returns for his senior season after proving his consistency over the last two years. Nassib threw for 5019 yards combined in 2010 and 2011 and tossed 41 TDs and just 17 interceptions in that period. Nassib will be protected by first-team all-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh. Senior second team all-conference WR Alec Lemon (68 catches LY) also returns. That’s about the extend of the good news, other than scattered reports that the receiving corps looked a bit improved with the presence of sr. Marcus Sales, who wasn’t with the team last season due to drug charges after making eight starts and catching passes for 898 yards combined in the previous three seasons.

Now the bad news...

There really is no go-to running back that can take the pressure off Nassib, who is steady, but far from a major playmaker. Jr. Prince-Tyson Gulley managed to gain 5.7 and 4.9 ypc in limited duty the last two seasons, but he played his way out of favor with fumbling problems in spring work. The offense lost first-team all Big East performers RB Antwon Bailey, TE Nick Provo and G Andrew Tiller. It’s a stretch to expect Marrone’s recruits to fill in such a highly-decorated group in one season.

Marrone kept his team a bit under wraps in spring, playing it very close to the vest with injuries. Fourteen players were unavailable for the spring game due to various physical problems. Marrone said he wouldn’t update the status of the injured players until August workouts begin. He needs a healthy team, but it’s doesn’t look as if that will happen. After logging a 27-57 SU mark in the last seven seasons, the Orange fan base now has better things to do on Saturday afternoons. Just over 3700 attended the spring game, and with only five home games and no marquee names visiting the Carrier Dome (the Southern Cal game is in East Rutherford, N.J.), season seat sales are way down.

The defense lost impact defensive end Chandler Jones, who went as the 21st pick in the NFL draft to New England, and hard-hitting safety Phillip Thomas, who led the team with 82 stops last season. The secondary also lost S Kevyn Scott, and the defensive line is trying to replace Jones by shifting sr. Deon Goggins from DT to DE and bringing in juco nose tackle Zian Jones. Good luck with that. The linebacking crew returns last season’s starters, led by second-team all-conference middleman Marquis Spruill and soph OLB Dyshawn Davis (10½ tackles for loss; frosh all-American), but that’s assuming they are healthy.

Summary: It is going to be very difficult for Syracuse to pull a “Phoenix” and rise from the ashes. Since Pasqualoni left for the NFL and then Connecticut, the Syracuse program has fallen on hard times. It figures to be a long road back to the bowl lineup for the Orange, and Marrone might have less time than remains on the Mayan calendar.


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