Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 96: Syracuse
Coach: Scott Shafer (0-0, entering first season; 0-0 overall)
2012 record: 8-5 overall (5-2 in Big East, tied for first in Big East; switching to ACC this year)
Look back: The Orange's final season in the Big East went about as well as anyone in upstate New York could have imagined. Syracuse rolled to a share of the Big East title and ended up beating West Virginia 38-14 in the snowy Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Syracuse also was in every game it played last season. Its widest margin of defeat was 13, and that came to a Southern Cal team that was ranked No. 1 at the time. Quarterback Ryan Nassib led the Orange's offensive charge, passing for 3,749 yards and 26 touchdowns. Before getting selected by the New York Giants in April's NFL Draft, Nassib ranked 18th nationally in total offense last season.
Scott Shafer was Syracuse's defensive coordinator in 2012. He took over the program earlier this offseason after head coach Doug Marrone was hired to coach the Buffalo Bills.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Marcus Sales, WR Alec Lemon, LT Justin Pugh, DE Markus Pierce-Brewster, DE Brandon Sharpe, DT Deon Goggins, SS Shamarko Thomas.
Top returnees: RB Jerome Smith, TE Beckett Wales, C Macky MacPherson, NT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, K Ross Krautman.
Strengths: Although key defenders like Markus Pierce-Brewster and Shamarko Thomas are no longer with the program, the Orange should be sound defensively again this season. By moving Shafer into its head-coaching role, Syracuse ensured its defense will remain strong. Shafer's unit ranked sixth nationally in tackles for a loss last season.
Weaknesses: Offense, particularly the passing game, figures to be an area of concern for Syracuse given Nassib's departure. The veteran signal-caller amounted for 99.008percent of the Orange's passing offense last season.
Seniors Charley Loeb and John Kinder are competing for the opportunity to be Nassib's replacement. At the very least, they'll have an experienced offensive line to help buffer the transition. Macky MacPherson, the grandson of former Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson, is a Rimington Award candidate and is joined on the line by OG Rob Trudo and OT Sean Hickey. Both also have offensive line starting experience.
Syracuse also had punt coverage issues last season. The Orange ranked 115th nationally in net punting. Punter Jonathan Fisher averaged just 39.2 yards per punt in 2012.
Outlook: Syracuse's first year in the ACC isn't expected to be an easy one. There certainly will be some level of transition, particularly as the Orange look to establish a new offensive identity. It won't take long for the program to know exactly how good it can be during the season. After a neutral-site opener against Penn State, the Orange visits another Big Ten team in Northwestern. The Wildcats beat the Orange last year before winning their first bowl since 1949.
Aug. 31 Penn State