David Fox Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
In the grand scheme of the program's history, Syracuse's 8-5 record last season is a blip on the school's all-time resume. Given where Doug Marrone found the program two years ago, though, winning eight games was a major statement, as the Orange won nine games combined the previous three seasons.
In 2010, the Orange returned to a bowl for the first time since 2004 and finished with a bowl win and a winning record for the first time since 2001.
Despite the strides made last season, Syracuse still faces challenges this spring as it tries to string together consecutive winning seasons for the first time in more than a decade. The Orange must replace TB Delone Cater, who rushed for 2,254 yards over the past two seasons. On defense, Syracuse must replace the prolific linebacker duo of Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue.
Here's a look at Syracuse as the Orange enter spring practice.
Doug Marrone has to get to work if the Orange is going to have consecutive winning seasons.
COACH: Doug Marrone
LAST SEASON: 8-5 overall, 4-3 in the Big East. Beat Kansas State 36-34 in the Pinstripe Bowl
SPRING DATES: March 18-April 16
RETURNING STARTERS (minimum seven starts last season)
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH: In his first season as a starter, Ryan Nassib passed for 2,334 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has room to improve his accuracy (56.4 percent), but he'll enter his second season as the starter with a seasoned group of receivers - Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon plus TE Nick Provo. The offensive line, once one of the worst in the country, has a solid foundation with four returning starters. Replacing the steady Ryan Bartholomew at center will be a tough task, though. The heir apparent at that spot is sophomore Mackey MacPherson, a grandson of former Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson, who led the Orange to its last undefeated season in 1987. On defense, Syracuse has two playmaking safeties who have started since they were freshmen in juniors Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas. Though Smith and Hogue are gone, Syracuse returns a standout linebacker in Marquis Spruill, who is moving from strongside linebacker to the middle after recording nine tackles for loss as a freshman.
HELP IS NEEDED: Syracuse will miss linebackers Smith and Hogue, who were the main defensive playmakers. Many of the potential replacements - Dan Vaughn, Brice Hawkes and Mario Tull - either played sparingly or played mostly on special teams last season. There's also a void at defensive tackle. After leading the Big East in pass defense and finishing second in pass efficiency defense, Syracuse must replace CBs Mike Holmes and De'Mon Merkerson.
3 GUYS TO WATCH
CB Ri'Shard Anderson: He was slated to be a starter last season before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during preseason practice. He and Kevyn Scott, the other projected starter at cornerback, have battled injuries through their careers. Syracuse needs both to stay healthy at a position that lacks experience.
DT Jay Bromley: Bromley earned a spot in the tackle rotation late in the season as a freshman. With both starting tackles gone, Syracuse is counting on Bromley to take charge at the position as a sophomore.
WR Marcus Sales: Sales was in the spotlight from the day he stepped on campus. He was a four-star prospect in the 2008 class, and he's a local kid. By the end of last season, he began to be the receiver Syracuse needed. He caught 21 passes for 375 passes in the final four games, including a 172-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Pinstripe Bowl. Syracuse is seeking a go-to receiver. If Sales can play like he did late last season, he looks like the team's top receiver.
THE PRESSURE IS ON
RB Antwon Bailey: He has been a backup for the past three seasons behind Delone Carter and Curtis Brinkley. Now a senior, Bailey is the clear-cut first option to be Syracuse's feature back. He rushed for 554 yards last season, but he adds a wrinkle to the offense because of his ability to impact the passing game - he caught 35 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns last season. Behind him, the position has little experience.
Optimism is high at Syracuse this spring following last season's 8-5 mark. There's good reason for that - Syracuse returns enough experience and skill to reach consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1998-99. The major focus during the spring is to restock a defense that surprised everyone and was one of the best in the Big East last season.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.