With the football opener against Northwestern just 48 hours away, here are five predictions for the upcoming season.
- Prince-Tyson Gulley will become king of the running backs
Gulley tragically broke his collarbone immediately following a career game against Toledo last season in which he carried the ball 10 times for 66 yards. If he had stayed healthy, he may have competed with Antwon Bailey for the starting job by the time 2011 drew to its end. He was the best all-around back on the team last year, and is again this year.
Kudos to Jerome Smith for having an excellent offseason and earning praise from his teammates and coaches for the strides he’s taken, but he still doesn’t have the big-play ability of Gulley. By the end of Week 3, Gulley’s playmaking will be impossible to ignore, and he’ll have won the lion’s share of the carries along with the starting job. Smith will be able to serve as a bruising change of pace and short yardage back.
- Marcus Sales will be inconsistent
When asked for his take on the return of Sales following a year-long suspension, Ryan Nassib answered with one of the more bizarre things a quarterback can say about his wide receiver.
“I’ve stopped trying to figure out how ‘5’ (Sales’ jersey number) does what he does. He’s something different, he’s a different type of beast. If he gets open I don’t complain about it.”
Granted, Nassib also went on to talk about Sales being hungry to make an impact in his return, but there’s clearly something a bit untraditional about his approach. He has reputation to taking it easy in practice and preserving himself for the games. That strategy has worked for certain players, but it’s not behavior Doug Marrone usually applauds.
Furthermore, Sales has yet to prove he can be a big play threat for an extended period of time. A whopping 42% of his 2010 receiving yards game in the Pinstripe Bowl. 75% of his touchdowns that season came in that game. It was an amazing afternoon for him, but it was still just one game.
- Syracuse will win a game it’s supposed to lose, and vice versa
Expectations from the media are low, the impatient fanbase is pressing for a breakout season, the non-conference schedule is arguably the toughest in the country, and the Big East is on par with Conference-USA. Quite the wacked out environment for a football program. And those extremely unusual circumstances are precisely why the unexpected will occur multiple times for the Orange this season.
It’s easy to say SU will beat Stony Brook and Minnesota, take a beating from USC and Missouri, and come close to splitting the remainder. But sports are always a lot simpler on paper than in reality. Plus, Marrone’s squad looks like one of those teams that have the talent to beat almost any team on the schedule, but the inconsistency to lose to any week. Syracuse’s top talent comes from mostly underclassmen and JUCO transfers. Marrone is desperate to see his program break through, and his teams have a history of head-scratchers of both the positive (West Virginia) and the negative (the subsequent five games) variety.
- Ashton Broyld will live up to expectations
He’s a prime example of SU’s best talent being a little green behind the ears. Ashton already has an NFL body, but his maturity and ability to grasp the offense are still in question. Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this week he’s aiming to keep things simple for Broyld, and that the Rochester native understands his role in the offense.
Let’s face it: Marrone knows he can’t afford to screw the pooch on this one. This is his fourth year at SU, and Broyld is the most exciting and dynamic player to put on a Syracuse jersey in that time. Expect Broyld to be used in a variety of ways this season, including as a Wildcat quarterback. And when Broyld has the ball in space, he rarely disappoints.
- The last two recruiting classes will make the quantum leap
They’re more talented than their older teammates, so they’re going to beat out more veterans than usual. Broyld, Brandon Reddish, Wayne Morgan, Ritchy Desir, Durell Eskridge, George Morris, DeVante McFarlane, Jeremiah Kobena, Dyshawn Davis, Ivan Foy, Rob Trudo, and more (Ron Thompson omitted because of injury). You’ll start to see more and more of these guys as the year progresses. They’re larger and faster, and will be possibly more durable than their slightly older peers.
This year’s underclassmen will unquestionably have the largest tangible impact of any such group in the Marrone era.
Posted: Andrew Kanell