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Season recap: Syracuse

12/7/2011

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Record: 5-7, 1-6 Big East

The Orange got off to a 5-2 start to the season, but many wondered whether that record was a bit misleading. Four of the victories were by a touchdown or less. One of them was in dispute after Big East referees made an error in awarding an extra point. Another was a nail biter against FCS Rhode Island. Yet another against a Tulane team that finished 2-11. You see where I am going with this.

Its definitive moment came in a 49-23 win over then-No. 15 West Virginia to go bump its record to 5-2. A second consecutive bowl was in sight. But Syracuse was unable to get to the magical six-win mark, dropping five straight games to finish with a losing season. Coach Doug Marrone said his team was simply pressing too much after that victory. But there also were inexperienced players, injuries and distractions to contend with, including the one-year suspension of starting safety Phillip Thomas -- the MVP of the unit to that point.

When it comes down to it, Syracuse could not score enough, and could not stop its opponents from scoring. It is plain to see in the Big East stat book -- the Orange finished the season ranked No. 7 in the Big East in scoring offense (24.2 point per game) and No. 8 in scoring defense (28.5 ppg).

Offensive MVP: Antwon Bailey, RB. Bailey had his best production in the middle of the season, when the Orange were winning. Still, he went over 1,000 yards rushing and added 200 receiving for some good all-purpose numbers. Alec Lemon emerged at receiver, and Nick Provo was a key player at tight end. Quarterback Ryan Nassib played well at times, too, but came up short in crucial situations.

Defensive MVP: Chandler Jones, DE. It is tough to give this to Thomas, who missed the final two games of the year after being suspended. He was easily the unit's best player this season, with six interceptions and 82 tackles. So I am going to go with Jones, who managed to lead the team in sacks (4.5) despite missing four games. He closed the season with solid performances, and added an interception and two forced fumbles.

Turning point: What ended up being a huge victory was actually the turning point to the season. Syracuse was unable to win another game after completely dominating West Virginia on Oct. 21. The Orange were mistake-prone the rest of the way out, with turnovers, penalties, crucial dropped passes and missed tackles.

What's next: A long offseason filled with questions that must be answered. Marrone said after the season ended he would take a look at himself and his coaching staff to find ways to improve themselves and be more accountable to their players. Recruiting has got to be picked up as well, along with players stepping up to take charge of a team that is in desperate need of leadership.