A-Rob confronts the death spiral

By Darrell Laurant  |   Friday, July 20, 2007  |  Comments( 0 )

Syracuse Orange
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(Second in a series of previews on Big East teams).

Like the elderly lady in the old commercial, the Syracuse Universty football team has fallen, and it can't get up.

It was just nine years ago when only a controversial late pass interference call against Tennessee kept the Orange from contending for a National championship behind Donovan McNabb. Since then, however, the decline has been steady and discouraging.

When a team starts to go bad, it stops appearing on television. When it stops appearing on television, it stops being attractive to media-savvy blue-chip recruits. And so the downward death spiral continues.

In 2005, SU hired Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to replace Paul Pasqualoni as head coach, and the suffering alumni got excited. That was before Robinson's first team finished 1-10 overall and 0-7 in the Big East.

There was some improvement last season, to 4-8 and 1-6, but the Orange still struggled most of the time. The most epic struggle was replayed about a million times on ESPN -- the horrific sequence against Iowa in a double-overtime loss when Syracuse failed in seven tries to punch the ball into the end zone from the 2-yard line.

Yup, the 2006 offensive line was, well, offensive. Syracuse returns all five starters from that '06 unit this season, but that may or may not be a good thing. Robinson is hoping that guards Corey Chavers and Eugene Newsome, center Marvin McCall and tackles Ryan Durand and Carroll Madison are about to graduate from the school of hard knocks. If not, there is a group of redshirt freshmen eager to take their place.

Elsewhere, the offense (110th out of 117 Division I-A teams in 2006 in total yardage) is a giant question mark. Perry Patterson, sacked 45 times last season, has graduated (probably for his own good). This is now the Andrew Robinson era, except that Patterson's sophomore heir only threw eight passes last year. Already, though, he is affectionately known as "A-Rob."

A-Rob will have some competent receivers to aim at, notably Mike Williams, Taj Smith and Rice Moss, but the running game took a big hit when rising star Delone Carter went down during spring practice with a serious hip injury -- possibly the same kind that ended Bo Jackson's career. Curtis Brinkley, the other main back last year, hurt his knee in spring drills, although he should be ready for the fall.

As has been the case over the past few years, the Orange will be better on defense than offense, led by DBs Dowayne Davis and Joe Fields (a former quarterback) and DE Jameel McClain.

This is the year Robinson needs to turn the corner, and that won't be easy. The Big East sportswriters picked his team to finish last in the conference this season, which is looking like a pretty solid prediction.
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