The Syracuse Orange are making the jump to the ACC in 2013 with a new head coach, a new quarterback and questions all over their receiving corps and defense. Things aren’t all bad news for the Orange heading into next fall, however, as former head coach Doug Marrone did an excellent job of stocking the talent cupboard along the offensive line and running back positions. That talent and depth should translate into Syracuse having the best running game in the ACC.
They will be led by the return of senior tailback Jerome Smith who is coming off a 1,000-yard breakout season in 2012. He finished the year rushing 228 time for 1,176 yards with three touchdowns and is ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 2 running back in the ACC behind only Duke Johnson of the Miami Hurricanes. Smith came on especially strong as the season wore down in 2012, recording four straight 100-yard games and saving his best performance for last when he rushed for 152 yards against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
He’ll be joined in the backfield by fellow senior Prince-Tyson Gulley, who acts as a perfect complement to Smith’s powerful running style in the Syracuse backfield. Last season, Gulley finished second on the team in rushing, gaining 825 yards on 157 carries and scored a team-high nine rushing touchdowns. He also has the ability to catch passes nicely out of the backfield and caught 33 passes for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns a year ago. He exploded in the Pinstripe Bowl against WVU, rushing for 205 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns and was named the bowl game’s MVP.
If it were just the pair of Smith and Gulley, Syracuse would still be a strong candidate for the best backfield in the conference. But the Orange also add a pair of redshirt freshmen to the mix in 2013 with George Morris and Devante McFarlane who have caught the eye of new offensive coordinator George McDonald. The former Miami wide receivers coach has raved about the depth of the running back position, saying that all four guys could step in and be playmakers at a moments notice.
That depth is what will set the Syracuse running game apart next season. While several of the top ACC schools will have dynamic running games with one or two excellent backs, Syracuse will be able to roll four-deep at running back without any significant dropoff in production. Will that running game be enough to push the Orange to the top of their new conference in 2013?