Doug Marrone embarks on his second year at Syracuse with the optimism that comes with the start of a new season, even if it's tinged with an aura of mystery.
"We're looking forward to it. We've been preparing for a long time and we're excited, I'm excited. " Marrone said of Saturday night's season-opener at Akron. "We don't get a lot of reports from Akron as far as what they're doing from an offensive and defensive standpoint. They're not covered as much as some other teams in the country.
"Knowing what to expect is different in the first game. I don't know what to expect from them," Marrone said of the Zips. "That is really the only anxiety we have right now."
Well, maybe not entirely.
Marrone announced his two-deep roster earlier in the week with some surprises. The biggest might have been Jose Cruz, a transfer from Hofstra. He beat out returning starter Nick Provo for first-string tight end. Two freshmen are listed in key roles — Prince-Tyson Gulley as the starting kick returner and linebacker Marquis Spruill.
"We have four or five tight ends who can play," Marrone said. "He (Cruz) has been by far the most improved player (from spring). Depending on what we do, it will determine who will go in there."
What the Orange plan to do is run the ball a lot as Ryan Nassib adjusts to his new role as the starting quarterback. Last season, he was the backup to Greg Paulus, and at times Nassib seemed to resent playing second fiddle.
"I did a lot of good things and made a lot of mistakes, but I did learn a lot from those mistakes," Nassib said Wednesday. "I've been here a year. I feel like a veteran now. I feel pretty good. The game plan is coming along great. There's still a little nervousness, but I'm excited."
Nassib has a strong backfield tandem in tailbacks Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey, and Carter especially is glad to have another chance in his checkered career. After watching it nearly end with a dislocated hip three years ago, he rebounded last fall and paced the Orange with 1,021 yards rushing and 11 TDs. Then he was suspended from school in the spring after being charged with misdemeanor assault.
Carter rejoined the team for his final year when camp opened, and he couldn't have picked a better place to start the season. He grew up in Copley, Ohio, just outside Akron, and will have a host of family and friends at the game.
"I just want to go out there and do better than I did (last year)," Carter said. "The mindset that I had was I wanted to work hard and earn back my spot. We have a lot of young players. Coach is waiting to see how they react. (The veterans) want to give them confidence."
Marrone said he would keep close tabs on Carter during the game considering the circumstances.
"You don't want a player to try and do too much and do the extra stuff that gets him out of his play," Marrone said. "He just needs to play like he has been playing. He has been a good player here in the past and we feel his skill level is up from last year."
Marrone said he was pleased with the development of the players as he continues to try to make Greg Robinson's awful four-year tenure as head coach a distant memory.
"I see a closer football team," said Marrone, 4-8 as a rookie but only 1-6 in the Big East. "I see a team that is more accountable for each other. I see a level of trust between the coaches and players. Those are the things I'm looking for.
"You make decisions on players who you can count on, and then you put them out there in a situation where they can be successful."
Source: AP News