This question would have seemed ridiculous before the season. Heck, anyone casual fan who sees Syracuse has just a 1-2 record may still think it's ridiculous. But make no mistake, in their three games against a solid range of opponents, QB Ryan Nassib and the Orange Offense are doing some silly things with the football. Through three games they rank 15th in the country in total yards of offense with 1600 total at an average of 533.33 per game and 6.11 yards per play.
Nassib has been out of his damn mind, ranking 2nd in the country with 379.6 yards per game passing, completing almost 66% of his passes with 9 TD's and just 3 picks. Oh and he AVERAGES 32 completions per game. If you're wondering, MarQueis Gray has completed 26 passes- this entire season. Yeah Nassib and the Orange have been slingin' it. His favorite target has been senior Marcus Sales, whose average of 116 receiving yards per game is seventh best in the nation, as he's caught 25 balls for 350 yards and 4 scores. That's an average of just over 8 catches a game.
And all of this has come against a good mix of opponents- their losses were a 42-41 shootout to 3-0 Northwestern, and 42-29 to #13 USC, who was #2 when they played them. Their win was a closer-than-it-should-have-been 28-17 victory over 1-AA Stony Brook where they still put up almost 550 yards total offense with over 300 passing and 200 rushing. And that's the thing- they threw a lot in the first two games because they had to, but they've run the ball fairly effectively as well, averaging 4 yards per carry. Now yes, a lot of that was thanks to the 214 rushing on 4.8 per carry against Stony Brook, but they still managed 133 against Syracuse and had 114 on NU at almost 4 yards per carry midway through the 3rd quarter. Down 35-13 they had to abandon the run game to play catchup.
Their passing offense is getting the headlines, and rightfully so, but don't count out the run game either. Judging by what we saw last week, or really didn't see from our run defense against Western Michigan, I'm just as worried about their running backs chewing up yardage on the ground as I am Nassib throwing the ball all over TCF Bank Stadium Saturday night. I'm not so sure Syracuse will be looking for a shootout, it's just they've been forced to throw a lot because of the games they've been in. With Minnesota starting a sophomore QB and Jerry Kill and Matt Limegrover already leaning WAYyyyyyyyyyyyyyy towards the conservative side in their play-calling thus far, I'm guessing the Gophers will try to slow the tempo with the run game. Syracuse, coming off 200+ yards on the ground, will certainly try and run the ball the way Western Michigan did, and if they have the same kind of success it's going to make that passing game even tougher to stop.
Our defense faced a tough challenge last week, but this may not only be it's toughest yet, but perhaps the best all year. Against a pretty solid barometer of opponents, Syracuse has proven through three games they have an offense that can move the ball on anybody, and considering how down the rest of the B1G looks right now- and the fact the Gophers won't have to face Ohio State- the Orange may bring in the best offense Minnesota will face all season. And really, who are we even arguing against? At the beginning of the year we would have said Wisconsin, but not anymore. Not Iowa, or Illinois. Michigan has had to face the best team in the country and a stout Notre Dame run D, so we know they're going to be good. Nebraska has piled up yards on the ground but as usual won't be able to throw well against good opponents, and Michigan State is struggling to throw the ball a lot more than I thought they would thus far.
That leaves us with...maybe Purdue or Northwestern? Really? That's the kind of season it's been thus far. Northwestern is 3-0 with the aforementioned shootout win, as well as two other victories against BCS opponents. Granted they were smart-kid BCS opponents who will be lucky to go bowling in Vandy and BC, but still. And Purdue lost a close one to Notre Dame (don't they always) and have walloped a couple of Easterns- Kentucky and Michigan- by a combined score of 102-22. They get the top passing offense in the country this week in Marshall (yes, Marshall), then we'll see how good their offense is with games against Michigan, Wisconsin (who has been playing good D at least) and Ohio State before they visit Dinkytown October 27.
Obviously, we're not going to know the best offense Minnesota played until the end of the year, but sitting here in week 4, right here right now, you can make a pretty strong argument that Ryan Nassib and the Syracuse Orange will be the best one they face all season.