Contender or pretender: Syracuse


If you’re just joining us, this series looks at the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. Florida State and Clemson are not included because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

Syracuse? Let's take a look at the new kids on the block.

Why they're a contender: Two words right off the bat: Jerome Smith. Any time you return a 1,000-yard back, you are going to give yourself an opportunity to win games. And first-year coach Scott Shafer is no doubt going to want to rely heavily on his running game with an inexperienced starter taking over at quarterback. But it's not just Smith who had a breakout season in 2012 in the backfield. Prince-Tyson Gulley returns as well after racking up 830 yards and nine touchdowns, and Adonis Ameen-Moore is back, too, giving Syracuse perhaps the best depth at running back in the entire ACC. Defensively, the Orange should have some steady play at linebacker with the return of Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch -- who had an outstanding performance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against West Virginia. The secondary also returns three starters, though it has to fill the void left by outstanding safety Shamarko Thomas.

Why they're a pretender: There are question marks all over the place on this team, and that is not exactly a good sign headed into Year 1 in a more difficult conference, with Florida State and Clemson on the schedule. Not exactly UConn and Rutgers those two. Syracuse needs to find a starter at quarterback, two starters at receiver, two starters on the offensive line. Now all of a sudden there are major questions on the defensive line with the dismissal of starting end Markus Pierce-Brewster. Syracuse now loses three starters up front from last season -- Brandon Sharpe, Deon Goggins and Pierce-Brewster, leaving some depth concerns headed into the spring. What is especially important to note about all the starters Syracuse is losing is just how good these players were for the Orange: receiver Alec Lemon, tackle Justin Pugh and Thomas all were first-team Big East selections; quarterback Ryan Nassib and Sharpe were second-team selections. They weren't just adequate players. They were exceptional players, making the job to replace all of them at once much more difficult.

Final verdict: Pretender. I loved the momentum with which Syracuse ended last season, but the Orange have to start over in a new league, with a new head coach to boot. There are plenty of good players on this roster but it's going to be really tough to compete with Florida State and Clemson with so many unknowns at so many key positions.

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