2012 team report cards: Syracuse

Time to grade Syracuse.

OFFENSE: If I had surveyed fans before the season started, how many would have guessed Syracuse would end up with one of the best offenses not in the Big East, but in the entire country? It certainly did not appear that would happen midway through the season, as the Orange struggled with finding an identity on offense. But everything changed after a 2-4 start. Ryan Nassib played better, throwing just two interceptions to 15 touchdowns in the final seven games. The run game took off. And the offensive line was much improved with the return of All-Big East tackle Justin Pugh. As a result, Syracuse ended the season with various school records. Nassib set records for passing yards (3,749), touchdown passes (26), completions (294) and first downs (328). Alec Lemon went over 1,000 yards receiving and Jerome Smith went over 1,000 yards rushing, giving the Orange a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver for the first time in school history. Syracuse had everything rolling at the end of the season. GRADE: A.

DEFENSE: The defense had its moments, both good and bad in 2012. I think what we can safely say is this group lacked consistency, particularly up front. Brandon Sharpe led the way with seven sacks, but four came in one game. Deon Goggins was moved between tackle and end. Jay Bromley showed flashes. But Syracuse still struggled to get after the quarterback (26 total sacks) and slow down the run (144.7 yards per game). The linebackers played better as a unit this season than last, but the biggest area of improvement came from the secondary, which gave up an average of 20 yards fewer per game than a year ago. Shamarko Thomas had another outstanding season at safety, and was the team's only All-Big East selection on defense. Its best performance of the year came in the last game of the year, a dominating win over West Virginia. GRADE: B-minus.

OVERALL: Syracuse was the hottest team in the league at the end of the season, with wins in six of its last seven games, including a victory over then-No. 9 Louisville. That win allowed Syracuse to finish its final year in Big East play with a share of the league title. Major accomplishment before saying goodbye to Doug Marrone. But the grading takes into account the entire season, and it is hard to overlook a 2-4 start that featured a pretty ugly loss to Minnesota, and blown opportunities against Northwestern and Rutgers. Syracuse could have been a 10-win team. Its turnaround from a year ago was impressive, but it's hard to give out an A for the overall body of work. GRADE: B.

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