- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Doug Marrone had an enormous task as he took on the Syracuse rebuilding project.
Marrone had to change the culture of losing and try to get his alma mater off the ground without a very talented roster. Not everyone agreed with Marrone's new brand of discipline, as more than 20 players either left or were dismissed from the team, including star receiver Mike Williams -- who quit midseason rather than serve a second suspension.
Syracuse also dealt with a flurry of devastating injuries that further depleted the roster. Marrone's decision to start Greg Paulus at quarterback despite Paulus being away from the game for five years had mixed results; Paulus completed 67.7 percent of his passes but also threw 14 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns.
Given all that, the Orange did about as well as could be expected in going 4-8. They lost six of their last eight as the injuries and defections mounted, but they blew out Rutgers and played well at UConn in the last two games. The record represented a one-game improvement over the final year of the Greg Robinson era (or as Syracuse fans call it, the G-Rob error), and Marrone left little doubt that he's taking the program in a new, hopefully much better, direction.
Offensive MVP: Delone Carter. Syracuse's passing game had its ups and downs, particularly after Williams quit. But Carter gave the offense a consistent, dependable option. The hard-running tailback ran for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Derrell Smith. An injury kept him out for the final two games. But the linebacker still led the team in tackles (81) while adding 6.5 sacks and forcing four fumbles.
Turning point: Losing 10-9 at Louisville could have been a crushing blow. The team looked destined to finish 3-9 with no Big East wins. But somehow Marrone got the players to regroup and put in a bunch of new offensive wrinkles to shock Rutgers 31-13. The Orange hope that was the warning shot that the program is on its way back.
What's next: Lots and lots of recruiting. The only way this team is going to get better is by adding better players, and Marrone has tons of holes to fill. He'll also have to decide whether Ryan Nassib succeeds Paulus at quarterback and develop some more weapons in the passing game.