Penn State and Syracuse rekindle their rivalry in an NFL stadium this weekend, as two traditional eastern powers look to build on 8-win 2012 campaigns. Syracuse finds themselves on the cusp of a transition year: 2013 brings the Orange a new quarterback, a new coach, and even a new conference. And while so much is still up in the air, the inimitable Sean Keeley, of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician--which, by the way, is one of the best and funniest blogs on this network--was gracious enough to lend his time answering some of our most pressing questions. After you've read what he has to say, swing on over to TNIAAM to see my answers to his questions. And then follow Sean on Twitter. But only in that order. On to the questions!
Black Shoe Diaries: Saturday marks the start of the Scott Shafer era. How did the Cuse fanbase respond to Doug Marrone's sudden departure, how did they feel about the announcement of Shafer as his replacement, and how will he differ from his predecessor?
Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician: Gotta admit, Doug Marrone leaving came as a pretty big shock to most of us. Not that we didn't think he was capable of being an NFL coach, we just thought he was still a couple years away from that. There was a lot of sour grapes but for the most part, we wished him well and obviously understood that he needed to strike while the iron is hot.
As for Shafer, SU fans were pretty positive to the news that he'd take over. He's been a solid DC for four years, he maintained a sense of stability for the program, the players LOVE him and if things had panned out differently for him before he got here, he'd have been a head coach by now. Shafer is immediately different from Marrone is that he's much more animated and open. He's going to speak plainly, whereas Marrone kept things close to the vest. We don't really know what to expect in terms of X's and O's except to say that we know the defense is going to be aggressive, as it's always been under his watch.
BSD: Syracuse also heads to the ACC this year. That's obviously a big step up in competition. Considering that Syracuse was competing for league championships in the Big East the past few years, what's the expectation for how well the Orange can do in a tougher conference?
TNIAAM: Honestly, I think the expectation is that we can do about as well as we've been doing in recent years. Take Florida State and Clemson out of the ACC and there aren't very many schools left that scare us. Not to say we'll have it easy, we've got a lot of good opponents in Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State, etc. But we've also been playing quality non-conference schedules for a while now (USC, Missouri, Northwestern, Washington, you guys). So it's not like we're not used to seeing good teams across the field.
Bowl eligibility certainly isn't off the table. And coming off a season in which we started 2-4 and ended up 8-5, we know that this might be a team that needs to get beat up a little before it gets better.
BSD: Obviously, Syracuse hasn't yet named a starter at quarterback, forcing Penn State to prepare for the contrasting styles of Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt. What can you tell me about both, and who do you expect to start Saturday?
TNIAAM: Based on everything we've heard and seen, Drew Allen is your throwback prototypical quarterback. He's big, he's got a strong arm and he's going to sit in the pocket and make plays with his arm. Not to say he can't run, but he's much more likely to resemble Ryan Nassib's style from last season. Hunt is being described in most circles as the running quarterback but I think that's a disservice to him. He's got a decent arm and Syracuse has so many weapons on the ground around him, I really don't think he'd be asked to do too much with his feet. Because of inexperience, I imagine Hunt is more likely to end up scrambling and making things happen on the run just because he has to, but it sounds like he's fully capable of running a pro-style offense. We've been hearing that Allen is getting more snaps with the first-team than Hunt and that's not surprising.
Honestly, I'd be shocked if he's not under center for the first drive on Saturday. That said, I kinda do expect to see both of them at some point.
BSD: The Orange return its three-headed rush attack, but lose key pieces along the offensive line. How optimistic are you that Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley, and Ashton Broyld will pick up in 2013 where they left off in 2012?
TNIAAM: Well, in the case of Smith and PTG, very. Smith is an absolute workhouse and it's a shame his touchdown numbers from 2012 don't tell the whole story. Because of short-yardage packages and the emergence of Gulley & Broyld, Smith ended up doing most of the work but seeing very little payday. He "quietly" put together one of the more dominating seasons by a Syracuse RB in a long time and I have full faith he can have another one. As for Gulley, he's a great compliment to Smith. Not the "lightning" to his "thunder," exactly, but he's much more East-West than Smith's North-South.
As for Broyld, I hope he doesn't pick up where he left off in 2012. The converted QB got a lot of hype in the preseason, saw the offense adjust to him early on but eventually he was put on the back-burner. There have been a lot of questions about his ability to understand the playbook and get his head in the game, but if he did, he could be a fantastic weapon. His name comes up a lot from the coaches and that he's basically been given his own position (H-Back), it bodes well for what Shafer and the coaches expect from him.
BSD: It seems like the Orange's greatest strength defensively is at linebacker. Where are the weaker spots, where Penn State will likely aim its attack?
TNIAAM: Linebacker is absolutely the strength of the defense. Marquis Spruill has the potential to hear his name during the NFL Draft and Dyshawn Davis is no slouch either. Cam Lynch is a rising star and we've heard good things about JUCO transfers Josh Kirkland and Luke Arcinega.
I like a lot of the guys in our defensive backfield, I just don't like the way our defensive backfield has played as a whole. Keon Lyn should be our best corner but right now it's still a dogfight for the other starting spot. We're lacking in experience in the safety spots now that Shamarko Thomas is gone, but hopefully those guys can step up. We're used to seeing the secondary give up a couple big plays every game and until proven otherwise, we assume the worst.
The defensive line is a huge, huge question mark for SU. Could be the biggest one on the team. There's so much potential from guys like Jay Bromley, Eric Crume, Iowa transfer John Raymon and converted tight end Ron Thompson. But until we see what they can do in a game, it's all just potential. We've been hearing a lot of buzz about freshman Isaiah Johnson, so keep an eye out for him.
BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?
TNIAAM: Gosh, I just have no idea. I really don't know what to expect from Syracuse's offense or defense and I don't know if I should expect business-as-usual Penn State or still-working-it-out Penn State. My gut tells me to assume a loss here and I think I'll go that way. I feel like this Orange team is going to be a work in progress, much like last season. This game is huge for us because it could be the difference between a 2-2 start and a 3-1 start. Unfortunately, I think we'll have to assume the former. Penn State 27 - Syracuse 17
Thanks again, Sean! Remember to read Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician all season long for Syracuse news, or at least right now, to read my answers to Sean's questions.