Syracuse season preview

Let's check in on Syracuse to see what Year 1 in the ACC has in store.

Syracuse Orange

Coach: Scott Shafer (0-0, first year at Syracuse)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, S Shamarko Thomas

Key returnees: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Marquis Spruill

Newcomer to watch: QB Drew Allen. Will he win the starting quarterback job?

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Penn State, Aug. 31; at Northwestern, Sept. 7; Clemson, Oct. 5; Boston College, Nov. 30.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: For the first time since 2010, Syracuse has some concern at the quarterback spot with dependable Ryan Nassib off to the NFL. The competition to win the starting job remains open, as Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen entered the mix when fall practice began. Terrel Hunt appeared to be the front-runner after spring practice. For now, Allen, Hunt and Charley Loeb are the top three fighting to win the starting job and keep the Orange offense rolling. John Kinder has been taken reps at receiver, so this appears to be a three-man race.

Forecast: This is a transition year in more ways than one for Syracuse. Not only are the Orange moving into a new conference -- playing unfamiliar teams up and down the schedule -- they have a first-year head coach, new coordinators and several key players they have to replace.

We already discussed quarterback. Of equal importance is finding go-to receivers to replace Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Plus, the Orange have to replace two starters on the offensive line, including first-round pick Justin Pugh at tackle. There was a noted difference in the way Syracuse ran the ball last year when Pugh returned to the lineup from an injury. With 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning to the backfield, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley and emerging George Morris II, the strength should be with the ground game. But if Syracuse cannot come together up front, then there may be struggles early on. They cannot afford for that to happen.

Defensively, Syracuse has to find a playmaker to replace safety Shamarko Thomas, who led the team with 88 tackles a year ago. The Orange also have to develop some depth up front, with only one proven player returning, Jay Bromley. Defensive line is an absolute concern headed into the season.

The strength of this unit should be with the linebackers, where Cameron Lynch is expected to join Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis in the starting lineup. Davis led the team with 13 tackles for loss a year ago and should make a name for himself in his new league. Syracuse also returns three starters in the secondary -- ACC fans should watch for cornerback Keon Lyn, poised for his best season yet.

Syracuse has a pretty tough nonconference schedule again, with games against Penn State and Northwestern to open the season. Playing in the Atlantic Division is not going to be easy, either, as it takes a step up in level of competition playing in the ACC. There are too many question marks now to believe Syracuse has a realistic change of finishing in the top half of its division. But the Orange should be in position to make it back to another bowl game.