How fast Sugar Bear can step up is one of the biggest unknowns this season.
What are the 5 most important questions facing Syracuse football? Just over a week away before the floodgates open to the Carrier Dome and the season kicks off. Doug Marrone and his squad have prepared for a bounce-back season after ending last year’s with a 5-game debacle. One definite fallout from the losing skid was training camp at Fort Drum in Jefferson County. Injuries and position battles have kept SU on its toes this pre-season, and heading into year four Marrone feels pressure to produce a winning season. Perhaps his grumpy mood at Big East Media Day just speaks to his focus on the upcoming challenges ahead.
All of the hype for the season even has Darryl Gross anxious. He says that he has the utmost trust in The Dougie.
“I want you to know we have complete confidence in Doug Marrone’s leadership and vision. He knows what we need to have success and we are getting closer. Have we had challenges? Of course. Will we have more challenges? Yes, it’s part of the deal. Will we be able to compete consistently in the future? I totally believe so.”
The Fizz poses the five biggest questions facing Syracuse in the home-opener:
1) Where will Ashton Broyld see the most time on the field?
Broyld arguably has the most expectations heading into this season. Rightfully so, he is a complex package player and serves as a painful headache to opposing defensive coordinators. SU lists Slash 2.0 officially as a RB, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since there’s a lack of certainty with last year’s backs. At the beginning of camp, we provided Broyld’s best suited positions, and RB didn’t make the cut. Will Marrone adhere to the Wildcat schemes to get him involved, or perhaps put him in the slot and run routes? The passing game has lost impact receivers. And maybe he gets time at QB. Broyld wasn’t featured under center at the Spring Game, and didn’t see much time at camp. His status will certainly be interesting because he is so versatile and so athletically gifted. Don’t expect this situation to be solved overnight. It will be a question throughout the season.
2) Will Justin Pugh suit up?
Yahoo Sports reports that Pugh will meet with his doctor this weekend, and it will decide his status against NW. The all-conference offensive lineman is recovering from shoulder surgery, and is the staple of the Orange O-line. It lacks depth so if Pugh were to not play, Sean Hickey intends to start in his place. Even if Pugh does get the chance, how and how often Marrone uses him will be interesting. His leadership is also a huge loss with his injury. He was very optimistic about the situation at Media Day, and told The Fizz that he trusts the other guys to step in and compete if indeed he misses time:
“I think the way we’ve built the program is the older guys make sure we bring up as many young guys and speed practice up. That’s the best way to get excited to see what they have in them a week from now.”
3) Is Ron Thompson up to speed with the offense?
Thompson has some large shoes to fill heading into his freshman stint. He takes over for TE standout Nick Provo, who holds the Orange single-season reception and career reception records. Sugar Bear has received a lot of attention this off-season, and if he can live up to expectations then SU has another lethal offensive weapon. For Ron to get off to a good start is huge for his confidence. The chance to get playing time early during his tenure would strengthen Marrone’s confidence in him as well. Based on a season prediction, Ron’s role is crucial so a new era of the TE position can unravel for this program. The Orange already has a verbal from Nick Provo’sbrother Tyler, and more should come over the years. Sugar Bear has the chance to begin a new culture.
4) Who gets the bulk of the carries?
Marrone has been awfully tight-lipped when it comes to this topic. There is no clear-cut favorite to get the majority of the snaps, not just against Northwestern, but for the entire season. SU loses a 1,000 yard rusher in Antwon Bailey, and an underperformance from the rest of last year’s group doesn’t help the cause. Marrone has shifted around DeVante McFarlane, so that leaves Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, and Adonis Ameen-Moore as veteran go-to guys. Smith looked to be the favorite out of spring practice, but Marrone has indicated that he isn’t quite ready to commit:
”I wouldn’t say he’s the guy we’re going to give the ball to 30 times (a game),” Marrone told Yahoo.
Expect Doug to mix it up a lot early on. But his Saints offense did that effectively, so having no favorite right out of the gate may seem troubling, but it could work out.
5) Is Ryan Nassib ready to take another step as a leader?
This is the last go-around for Nassib, entering his 5th season with the Orange. He would undoubtedly love to end his tenure with a bang and head to another bowl. Last season, Nassib set school single-season records for completions, passing yards, and tied the mark for touchdown passes. It’s the final year of stability under center for now. The duo of Zach Allen and Austin Wilson are heading to campus next year, plus the backups return as upperclassmen. If things go south would the staff ever pull the plug on him to get a head start on next year? Hard to imagine since his leadership is invaluable, and he told Yahoo that he’s excited for his final year.
”It’s a whole ‘nother year in the system,” Nassib said. ”We’ve got some guys stepping up, good competition. I think we got better. We’re not ready to step up and play Northwestern yet. We still have some things to get down, but I think we’re getting there. When the time comes, hopefully, we’ll be ready.”
The anticipation builds for the start of a new look Orange team. How players are utilized in all three phases is fun to look forward to. Football’s back, but that means questions are as well.
Posted: Brendan Glasheen