I reached out to Sean over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician to do a Q&A on the upcoming Pitt-Syracuse game this weekend and he obliged.
I'm sure you've checked out his site before, but if you haven't, make it a priority. It's the best Orange blog out there and he'll also have my answers to his questions on Thursday.
Onto the questions:
1. Syracuse is obviously the biggest surprise in the Big East, at least in terms of teams that maybe weren't expected to do too much. After the team's win at South Florida this weekend, Syracuse has the look of, at the very least, a team that can cause some trouble for Big East teams. At 4-1 and 1-0 in the conference, is Doug Marrone being hailed as a genius or are fans still taking a wait and see approach with him? And for that matter, have fans and visitors of your site talked openly about winning a very down Big East conference or is still a wait and see approach there as well?
Before the South Florida game, there were two distinct camps when it came to Doug Marrone. One side saw what he was doing behind the scenes and was already on board with his discipline, mindset and gameplan for the program. The other side liked what they had heard but wasn't going to be convinced until there were more W's on the board. While I was already in the first camp, I understand where the second camp came from. As a fanbase, we heard A LOT of talk out of Greg Robinson while he was here and we got pretty tired of it.
After the win, you could sense that some kind of barrier that was preventing that second camp from enjoying the Doug Marrone Era has officially crumbled. All of a sudden this fanbase feels very whole, like we're all on the same page. We know the program isn't there yet and there's still a lot of work to be done but we know now for sure that we're on the right path.
I wouldn't say that SU fans are openly calling for the Big East title. That said, I think it's fair to say we expect to do well in the conference. No more of this "one conference win per season" nonsense. We fully expect to win 3-4 games in the conference right now. I've been saying since the season began that the seven wins needed to qualify for a bowl game were possible. I knew the Big East was soft, but I didn't even realize it was THIS soft. Throw in our season-ending game against Boston College, which looks a lot more winnable now than it did a month ago, and SU fans are excited.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me where SU fans expect to be when the season ends as of this moment, I think the consensus would be around 7-5/8-4 and playing in the Pinstripe Bowl.
2. Running back Delone Carter is averaging more than 100 yards per game and is on pace to top his 1,000 yard season of a year ago. What are his chances of getting to the NFL? What does he need to improve on to get there?
Delone's got a great chance not only to break 1,000 yards again this year but also move way up the SU career rushing list. Right now he's on pace to finish his career as Syracuse's third all-time leading rusher, behind Joe Morris and Walter Reyes. Not too shabby.
That said, I would be lying if I said his NFL chances look too good. He's already got a big injury on the list, a dislocated hip that kept him out of the 2008 season. While he seems fully recovered, those things remain on your permanent record. The other thing is that although he's working on back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, there aren't too many moments when you say to yourself, "Wow, this guy's a shoe-in for the NFL."
Delone's predecessor, Curtis Brinkley, looked like a good candidate for the NFL but he's currently out of a job (being shot didn't help matters). In fact, there's been a lot of SU running backs in recent years that had college careers like him that never panned out in the pros. Not to say he can't make it, but it will be an uphill climb.
3. Since he's my fantasy league QB, I know Jake Locker had a big game in Syracuse's 21-point loss to Washington. Syracuse actually has one of the top pass defenses in the nation and ranks in the top 15. What happened in that game? Do you merely chalk it up to running into a very good quarterback or have there been other significant lapses in the secondary?
I was at the game and, bias aside, I will honestly say that Jake Locker's numbers were a little deceiving. The two long TD passes were actually dump passes that WR Jermaine Kearse turned into scores. Locker looks decent, but nowhere near the Heisman contender we expected.
That said, we did get killed. Truth is, we played a team with more talent, on the road, 3,000 miles from home, in front of a tough crowd, while our offense was still coming together. The deck was stacked and Syracuse just isn't at the point yet where they can overcome those kinds of odds. I think we're a better team now than we were then, though.
Specifically, the secondary has gotten much better. They've been our defensive weak line for the past three or four years and it looked like it was going to be more of the same this year. Then Mike Holmes stepped it up. Da'Mon Merkerson seemed to put it all together. Max Suter started hitting people. And fan favorite Shamarko Thomas was all over the place. It's a steadily-improving unit.
4. Pitt has some pass defense issues of its own and in Ryan Nassib, will face a pretty good quarterback. Nassib has ten touchdowns to only two interceptions on the year and hasn't thrown a pick in three weeks now. Even with a good running back in Carter, do you expect the Orange to come out and throw more or will they focus on the run against a decent Pitt defensive line?
Syracuse's offensive gameplan this season seems to be "you tell us what you're willing to give us and we'll do that." So if Pitt shuts down the running game, I fully expect Nassib to come out firing. Surprisingly, our receivers have really stepped it up and Nassib has a lot of faith in them.
That said, if the Pitt secondary shuts down the passing lanes, expect a two-headed attack on the ground from Carter and Antwon Bailey. Bailey has been lighting to Carter's thunder and is a huge presence not only on the ground but in the passing game.
This ability to pass and run is something SU just hasn't had for a long time. Either the QB play just wasn't there or the receivers did them no favors. This year they'll finally getting it together.
5. Pitt has recently had success against the Orange winning the past five games, but the Cuse generally plays Pitt pretty tough. From 2006 - 2008, the margin of victory has been ten points or less. Last I saw, this game was a pick 'em. How do you see the game shaping out on Saturday?
I think it's got all the makings of a classic Pitt-SU slobberknocker. The word of the week from Marrone and Wannstedt has been "physical" and I think we'll see a battle of the two rushing attacks on offense. I don't expect a lot of scoring with both defenses in good condition so the kickers better be ready to go. I get the feeling Pitt is about to get clicking after their slow start so the Orange will need to keep up the momentum from last week.
The good news for us is that the Dome is gonna be rocking, possibly the biggest crowd in there since the Penn State game two years ago. With the crowd, the momentum and the law of averages in our favor, I gotta go with the Orange in a 16-13 victory.