SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- To say this is a season of transition for Syracuse is an understatement.
Doug Marrone left the team to take over as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Four-year starting quarterback Ryan Nassib finished his record-breaking career and likewise went to the pros.
The Orange enter a new league in 2013, joining Pittsburgh as first-year members of the ACC.
The positive way to look at this is that first-year coach Scott Shafer gets an early chance to put his stamp on the team. Perhaps unfortunately for the former defensive coordinator, most of the
concerns come on the other side of the ball.
Start at quarterback, where Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen arrived to
battle Terrel Hunt for the starting job. But that's not the only big hole to fill. The Orange also lost standout lineman Justin Pugh to the NFL and has to replace standout wideouts Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon.
Fortunately, whoever wins the quarterback job has the luxury of being able to hand the ball off with confidence. Jerome Smith gained 1,176 yards on the ground last year and was nearly joined in the 1,000-yard club by teammate Prince Tyson-Gulley, who finished with 825. There are few running back combinations in the country as versatile as these two, with both able to play the every-down role if needed.
Defensively, there's a lack of depth on the line, but Syracuse should be strong everywhere else. If there's one thing Shafer has been known for in his coaching career, it's training his players to play tough, hard-nosed football, and that showed as many of the same players on this Orange defense progressed under his watch in 2012.
Syracuse showed a lot of faith in the state of the program by promoting from within when Marrone left, an interesting strategy since the coach wasn't especially popular among the fan base throughout much of his time there. But one thing's for sure just a few months into his head coaching career -- nobody is going to beat a Scott Shafer-coached team by being tougher. That alone should make this a fun team to watch in its inaugural ACC season.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Scott Shafer gets a marquee matchup to start his head coaching career with a neutral-site game at MetLife Stadium against Penn State. The Orange then travel to Northwestern and host Wagner and Tulane before playing their first ACC game against Clemson on Oct. 5.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Syracuse lost most of its passing game during the offseason, with Ryan Nassib, Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales all graduating. Whoever wins the quarterback job is going to have to develop chemistry with the wideouts in a hurry to match how the team looked last year.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The big question mark for the Orange is under center, where Ryan Nassib's reliability will be sorely missed. Terrel Hunt and Drew Allen were splitting time in August, with neither able to separate from the other. The defensive line and secondary both lack depth, and freshmen and sophomores must be ready to play quickly. The secondary in particular is going to be challenged in an ACC that likes to throw the football.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.