- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Joe Paterno wants a Big East team to join the Big Ten. He probably won't get his wish any time soon, but the next best thing takes place this fall. Syracuse will face three Big Ten teams -- Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State -- in the first three weeks of the season. It's rare when another BCS team not named Notre Dame plays two games against squads from another BCS conference, much less three.
To help educate us on the Syracuse Orange, I consulted Big East blogger Brian Bennett, who boasts plenty of expertise on the league. Get your notepads out and prepare to learn something as Brian fills us in on Syracuse as well as Cincinnati, which hosts Illinois on Nov. 27.
Also, check out my thoughts on how the Big Ten matches up with the Big East.
Adam Rittenberg: So BB, Syracuse is clearly trying to join the Big Ten with this schedule. Three Big Ten teams? Wow. Do Minnesota, Northwestern or Penn State have much to worry about with Doug Marrone's team?
Brian Bennett: Well, Adam, if this were hoops, then the Orange might well go 3-0. As it stands, the 'Cuse will more likely go 0-3. I really like what Marrone is doing in rebuilding the program, but the simple fact is that he's got a huge repair job on his hands. There just isn't much in the cupboard after the disastrous Greg Robinson tenure. That said, I think Syracuse could potentially put up a fight at home against Minnesota and Northwestern. Going to Penn State looks like a massacre waiting to happen.
AR: Hey, Penn State won the NIT last year! They might give the Orange a game in hoops (or not). What can Big Ten teams expect from Marrone scheme-wise this fall?
BB: You'll see a much more diverse offense than what Syracuse brought against Northwestern and Penn State last year. Marrone was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, who had one of the most creative and varied attacks in the NFL the past couple of years. The offensive system should be predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly, with some spread elements. The rushing game should be decent with Delone Carter, Antwon Bailey and Averin Collier. The offensive line is a question mark right now. On defense, former Michigan coordinator Scott Shafer is in charge, so Big Ten fans should be familiar with his schemes. Syracuse hopes he has more success than he did in his short stint in Ann Arbor.
AR: I'm definitely familiar with Shafer, whose dismissal was somewhat surprising after just one year, albeit a very lousy one. It'll be interesting to see Marrone's offense in action. So who will be at the controls? Rumor has it there's some Paulus guy in camp for the Orange at quarterback.
BB: Yeah, you think that will draw some interest early in the season? Marrone has pulled off a few QB surprises already. He named little-known redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib his starter the first week of spring practice, supplanting last year's starter, Cam Dantley (who, by the way has some hoops bloodlines, too; he's Adrian Dantley's kid). Then Greg Paulus transferred from the Duke hardwood to the Orange gridiron in May. It's a fascinating and unprecedented experiment.
I really don't see how a guy who has never played college football and hasn't played the sport in four years can show up in May, go through a few weeks of August practice and be ready to start in September. Marrone will probably throw him out there and see what he's got at some point, if nothing else than to sell tickets at the Carrier Dome. But I think Nassib is far more likely begin the year under center.
AR: At least Paulus doesn't have to worry about Nolan Smith supplanting him on Syracuse's depth chart. It's really an amazing story. He obviously was a tremendous high school player, and he's got some speed as well. How do you expect him to be used?
BB: He's got the tools to fit what Marrone is trying to do> The question will be, how fast can he adjust? I could see him coming in for a series or two early in the season so he can get some experience. Who knows? He could earn the starting job at some point. It's not like he's got to beat out Donovan McNabb. Nassib is totally unproven, too, and Dantley was merely competent.
AR: Yeah, I've got a feeling at least one Big Ten team will see Mr. Paulus taking snaps. OK, time to put you on the spot: how will Syracuse fare against the Big Ten this fall?
BB: I'll go the safe route and predict 0-3. Syracuse won't be favored in any of those games. It wouldn't shock me, however, if the Orange pulled off an upset against either Minnesota or Northwestern.
AR: Of course, Syracuse isn't the only Big East team matching up with the Big Ten this fall. Illinois travels to Cincinnati the day after Thanksgiving for what should be a great game. I know Cincinnati loses a lot of experience, but will Brian Kelly's squad have things together by then? How do you see that game shaking out?
BB: That's a long way away, of course, but it sure looks like a potentially fun game. You've got Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard, the Big East's best quarterback-receiver duo, going against Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. If I'm Ron Zook, I'd much rather play the Bearcats early on, because they're replacing 10 defensive starters and learning a new defensive system (the 3-4) under a new coordinator (Bob Diaco). I think Kelly will have this team humming by Turkey Day, and I wouldn't bet against Cincinnati at home. Maybe the Big East can salvage one against the Big Ten in 2009.