I know that Syracuse is our 4th preseason game but I've been reading a few articles recently about the Orange so I'm going to go with a little overview / preview of their trip to TCF Bank Stadium September 22nd.
The Cuse started out very well going 5-2 to start the year losing only at USC and to eventual Big East champs Rutgers. The fifth win was actually over then #23 West Virginia in convincing fashion. Then the wheels came off the bus and the Orange dropped their final five games to miss being bowl eligible and limped into the offseason.
Returning Starters - 5 (6 if you include Sales who was a starter in 2010)
Syarcuse was led offensively by All-Big East running back, Andrew Bailey who finished third in the Big East rushing the ball with just over 1,000 yards, but Bailey graduated and running back is a big question mark surrounding this offense. Also making 1st team all-conference was LT-Justin Pugh (who returns), OG-Andrew Tiller and TE-Nick Provo (both of who graduated). Both running back and stability along the offensive line are the questions needing answers before the season starts.
Quarterback and wide receiver should be relative strengths for the offense. Ryan Nassib is entering his third year as the starter and the senior will be the leader of the offense. His last two seasons he has combined to throw for over 5,000 yards, 41 TDs, a 59.6 completion % and 17 interceptions. Nassib should have a couple of good weapons on the outside to throw to as well. Alec Lemmon earned 2nd team All-Big East honors last season and the talented Marcus Sales returns after missing a season due to being suspended. This should be a pretty good passing attack and test for the Gophers.
The other potential offensive weapon worth noting is the true freshman, Ashton Broyld. He is an athletic quarterback who figures to make his mark on the offense this season in a variety of roles. Broyld will get some wildcat opportunities and may also line up in the backfield at times as the Orange look for fresh and active legs at running back.
Returning Starters - 7 (maybe 8 if Deon Goggins gets his starting spot back)
Finished last in the Big East in total defense last season. We don't have much to brag about defensively but the Orange, on paper, don't appear to be much better. In the Big East they ranked last in points allowed, total yards allowed, opponent 3rd down conversions, sacks, opponent first downs and tied for last in turnovers generated. Gone is Chandler Jones who was a 1st team All-Big East defensive tackle and four other starters.
Returning is MLB-Marquis Spruill who was a 2nd team All-Big East selection along with 6 or 7 other returning starters. Their linebackers return, 3/4 of their secondary return and they have bigger questions along the defensive line. Sound familiar?
Is pretty tough, they get 3 BCS conference teams and Stony Brook (where Marcus Coker transferred). Northwestern opens up the season, then USC followed by Stony Brook and finally a trip to Minnesota before the Big East season.
How Do We Stack Up?
This is one of those classic games where both fan bases think our team is better than that team. Gopher fans look at a team that finished 1-6 in the Big East, with a bad defense and no running game to speak of and think "we should beat them." Orange fans see one of the worst teams in the Big Ten who have no offensive weapons at RB or WR and displayed one of the worst defenses in the country last year; they think "we should be able to beat them." Something has to give. I think the Gophers will be much better this year and I'm sure Syracuse fans think they will see improvement in 2012 as well.
Last season we did have one common opponent, we both played at USC. We fared much better losing 19-17 and having a late drive to try and win it. Syracuse lost 38-17 giving up more rushing and even more passing yards than we did. So based on that we should dominate right?
Overall, I like our chances. The game is at home. We will be coming off a game against Western Michigan so we should be well versed in defending an aerial attack. The Broncos will rack up a lot of passing yardage on us, we'll watch the tape and be extra-prepared for Syracuse. Their ground game doesn't scare me, they may be running more zone-reads with Nassib getting more carries than he is used to but I think our linebackers will be up to their ground-game challenge. By week 4 I just hope that our secondary starts coming together and we will play well against this Syracuse offense. As for our offense? This defense isn't very good either, I think we score plenty of points and win 31-24.
* This is all just total guess-work. I always find it challenging to get to know a team that I know next to nothing about. The last time I watched Syracuse play a game was 2009 when we beat them on the road to start the season.