Orange alert: Is the worst over for SU? (Part I)

By Darrell Laurant  |   Sunday, July 02, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Syracuse Orange
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This is the first installment of a series covering teams that are possibly on the rebound:

When the Syracuse University football team's offensive coordinator was charged with driving under the influence recently, a cynic might have said: "That explains a lot."

After all, the entire SU offense played most of last season as if under the influence of something, and it wasn't good.

The bad news? This was the new offensive coordinator.

Still, how can a 1-10 season get any worse? Well, theoretically, it could -- Buffalo, the only team Greg Robinson's Syracuse Orange beat last season, is off the schedule.

Yet we're not talking Temple here. Syracuse is a team with a proud history that only recently has gone into decline. Certainly, Robinson wouldn't have left a good job as defensive coordinator at Texas to climb aboard a sinking ship.

2005 was a perfect storm for the Orange vessel. Injuries depleted the receiving corps, the offensive line was wretched, and the new Longhorn-style offense brought in by Robinson, OC Brian Pariani and quarterback coach (and former UT star) Major Applewhite was apparently unintelligible to the people who had to run it.

Pariani and Applewhite departed, Brian White came from Wisconsin to run the attack, and the offense (103rd in the nation last season) was dumbed down a bit.

Robinson and company may have hoped that QB Perry Patterson would turn into Vince Young North last season. Instead, he grew into Daunte Culpepper (255 pounds at one point) and played like Vince Vaughn.

But it wasn't all Patterson's fault. Damian Rhodes was a good college tailback, but running him behind an overmatched and often befuddled offensive line was like trying to cram an orange into a beer bottle. Moreover, three of the team's top five receivers were lost for much of the season.

This time around, Patterson is almost svelte, having dropped 20 pounds. If nothing else, he looks better, and Robinson swore the beleaguered senior was a much better player in the spring. Patterson has had his moments, in all fairness, and ranks seventh in career passing at his school.

Rice Moss is back as the top receiver, and J.J. Bedle, Lavar Lobdell and Bruce Williams also have some speed. Only C Jason Outten and G Carroll Madison return from the offensive line, but perhaps that's just as well.

As for running back, the early hope is for either Kareem Jones (good football name, just 108 yards rushing in 2005), Paul Chiarra or Curtis Brinkley to step up as the frontrunner to replace Rhodes. Based on the performance of incoming freshman Delone Carter in the Big 33 game, however, this trio may only be keeping the position warm for a few games until Carter gets acclimated.

How good is Carter? After watching him run for over 100 yards and catch a 78-yard touchdown pass for Ohio against the Pennsylvania All-Stars last month, at least one Pennsylvania recruit -- QB Cody Catalina -- immediately signed with Syracuse to be on the same team.

Nobody could fault the Syracuse defense last season, especially since it spent as much time on the field as any stop unit in the country. Robinson is deservedly regarded as a defensive innovator, while DB Tanard Jackson and LB Kelvin Smith should be drafted at season's end.

It might be too much to expect for the Orange to be bowl eligible, but they should be better. For one thing, the non-conference schedule -- Wyoming, Illinois, Wake Forest, Iowa -- is easier (forget Iowa). For another, Syracuse fans are used to excellence, and the pressure on the current team to get better is huge. Even Indianapolis Colts' All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney (the last real Syracuse star) showed up this summer to provide a little alumni support and advice.

Let's just hope White didn't start drinking after he saw what he had to work with.

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