Time to get back to our series looking at each Big East team's biggest reasons for hope and concern for the 2011 season. Since we're going in reverse alphabetical order, Syracuse is on the clock. Let's take a look at the Orange:
Biggest reason for hope: The offensive line
Head coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive linemen, must smile when thinking about his Orange O-line this year. The group returned four starters, including budding superstar Justin Pugh at left tackle. It's a unit that played well, if not extraordinary, much of last year and had an excellent performance in the bowl game. There is little substitute for experience and existing chemistry on an offensive line. The one new starter is center Macky MacPherson, who had a nice spring and overcomes his lack of size (he's just 255 pounds) with good footwork and smarts. The line gives Syracuse an excellent place to start building on an offense which brings back the nucleus from a year ago. The Orange should continue to run the ball well even with Delone Carter gone, and quarterback Ryan Nassib should have time to find what the team hopes are improved receivers in the passing game.
Biggest reason for concern: Linebackers
As the line and other returnees provide hope that the offense can be a little more explosive021-, so too does the loss of key players on defense provide concern that Syracuse might have to score more points. Replacing seniors Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith won't be easy; the two were the team's leading tacklers and the ignition switches for a defense that loved to bring pressure in 2010. Sophomore Marquis Spruill moved to the middle spot this spring after playing outside linebacker as a true freshman, and early enrollee Dyshawn Davis and senior Dan Vaughan led at the two other spots after the spring. Marrone hopes some incoming freshmen this summer help with the depth. But the group will be inexperienced and not very big physically. The Orange still have a lot to work with at defensive end and at safety, so perhaps coordinator Scott Shafer changes things up a bit with his defensive schemes. Pinstripe Bowl aside, Syracuse won with defense last year; will that formula continue to work in 2011 without the two best players from that side of the ball?