We continue our look at Big East title chances for each team in the league. Up today: Syracuse. The Orange have some questions on defense, but they also return a solid group on offense that could really make even bigger strides this season. They had a surprising 2010. Are more surprises in store for 2011?
Three reasons why Syracuse will win the Big East
1. Offensive line. Syracuse should have one of the best offensive lines in the league with the return of four starters, including second-team All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh. Center Macky MacPherson might be undersized, but he had a great spring and should be able to fill in nicely for Ryan Bartholomew. With such a veteran group returning, questions could be eased in the run game with the loss of Delone Carter. Antwon Bailey is capable, and the line should be able to make things even easier on him.
2. Ryan Nassib. The quarterback came into his own last season, throwing for 2,334 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions and had a breakout game in the Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State. He made big strides during the spring as he looks to improve on his accuracy (just 56 percent last season). He also has talent at the receiver spot with Van Chew, Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. With Carter gone, more will be expected from Nassib this season.
3. Secondary potential.While Mike Holmes and Da'Mon Merkerson are gone, Kevyn Scott and Keon Lyn showed great potential this spring at the cornerback spots. Scott is a senior, so he brings some more experience to the backfield. Add them to terrific safety tandem Shamarko Thomas and Phillip Thomas, and Syracuse could have a pretty good group in the defensive backfield. That would be huge considering some of the offensive teams the Orange face in the Big East. Depth could be an issue, but these four starters have a chance to impress.
Three reasons why Syracuse won't win the league
1. Linebacker questions. The biggest unknown is how Syracuse is going to make up for the loss of Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, who combined for 309 tackles last season. All three guys penciled in to start have some unknowns. How will Marquis Spruill play in the middle? Will Dyshawn Davis and Dan Vaughan keep their hold on the starting spots and be able to hold their own as starters? Will one of the incoming freshmen seriously push for he starting job?
2. Defense. Aside from the linebackers, there are questions throughout the defense. How will Syracuse do with undersized defensive tackles? Will Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich take the reins and help the D remain as aggressive as it was last season? Surely Syracuse wants to improve upon the 27 sacks it had last season. I mentioned the cornerbacks up top, and while there is potential there, they still are question marks. Only five starters return, and this is a team that was led by its defense. Will it be able to do the same in 2011?
3. Nassib. He makes an appearance here as well because much of the offense is going to rely on whether he makes big-time improvement this season. Syracuse did not have many big plays last season, and you figure the Orange are going to want to stretch the field more. Plus, teams may dare Nassib to beat them with his arm, even with Carter gone. He has to be more of a leader this season. If he is not, then Syracuse will have a hard time winning the league title.