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Monday Morning QB - 8/31/09

The choice is clear. For now.
Editor’s Note: The following article is a new weekly feature from Orange::44 correspondent John Brennan that will run every Monday morning called Monday Morning Quarterback, assessing the quarterback situation of the Syracuse football team on a week by week basis.

Welcome to the first edition of Monday Morning Quarterback here at Orange::44. As this inaugural edition comes before the start of the season, there’s not much Monday morning quarterbacking to be done, in the most common meaning of the phrase. Rather, I will recount the off-season QB controversy and preview what Greg Paulus needs to show us in the first game against Minnesota.

When the Greg Robinson Era whimpered to a close last November, Cam Dantley had basically solidified himself as the starting QB of the Syracuse Orangemen. But when Doug Marrone was hired as head coach, the role of starting QB was up for grabs. Prior to the Spring Scrimmage, redshirt freshman Ryan Nassib was named the starting QB, and I was anxious to see what the coaches saw in him that had earned him the starting nod. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, I was disappointed. Both Nassib and Dantley got a number of reps in the scrimmage, neither one showing any real “flashes,” as a not so great man once said. The spring practice sessions ended with Orange Nation not feeling too good about the QB situation.

Meanwhile, a chapter of a book in North Carolina was nearing its conclusion. Greg Paulus, once the starting point guard of the Duke Blue Devils, had exhausted all his NCAA basketball eligibility and was about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. News came out that he was interested in playing football, even working out with the Green Bay Packers. Evidently the Packers missed having a nationally hated quarterback since Brett Farve, er, uh, Favre, had left, and thought that Paulus may be a great fit for that role. But that didn’t work out. In fact, no NFL teams believed that Paulus had what it would take to compete at that level, having not played the sport in four years.

So that’s when Paulus turned to the idea of playing football at the D-1A level. Due to a convenient loophole, even though his basketball eligibility was exhausted, he could apply for a waiver to play another sport at another school for one year, since he did not redshirt while at Duke. Immediately, Syracuse seemed the logical pick: a new head coach, an offense lacking leadership or an impressive QB, and well, Paulus grew up there. After visiting a few other schools in similar predicaments, Paulus settled on the Orangemen, after being accepted into the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for a graduate program.

So it would be a done deal on Paulus being the starting QB for Syracuse, right? I mean, sure, he hadn’t played football since high school, four years ago; but even a rusty Greg Paulus had to be better than a fresh Dantley or a fresh Nassib. Not so fast, said head coach Marrone. Paulus would have to compete for the job, just like anyone else. Whether this was true, or just a sham competition like the Bachelor or Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, it didn’t matter. I think we all knew Greg Paulus would get the starting nod.

I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about the whole Greg Paulus coming to Syracuse thing. I mean, what good could this do to the program, ultimately? Sure, let’s say he’s amazing and SU goes 6-6 or even better. Where does that put them next year, when he’s gone? Back to 3-9 with a corps of QBs with no meaningful game experience. But then I got thinking, well, this could have better long-term results than that. First of all, there’s positive buzz about the Syracuse football program in the national news again. And if he really is as good as we hope he is, then he can serve as a team leader, as a mentor to the other QBs to follow in his footsteps. And he can be one of the best recruiting tools since, well, Donovan McNabb I guess. We get through the next year or two with Nassib or true freshman Charley Loeb at the helm, and then hope that the Paulus magic has gotten us a 4-star QB recruit to finally resurrect the program since the McNabb era.

So the passage of time, and these thoughts in mind, finally pulled me onto the Paulus bandwagon. So was it a surprise that, a week into preseason practice, Marrone named Paulus the starting QB? Not at all. I trust that it’s because he’s the best QB on the team. Because despite everything I just preached, winning football games has nothing to do with the name on the jersey of the man behind center.

In fact, winning football games does not have everything to do with the man behind center, whoever he may be. It has everything to do with the cohesiveness and execution of the team. Luckily (or unfortunately, as the case may be), the success of that man behind center directly correlates to the success of the football team. A QB is only as good as the time is linemen give him, and only as good as the skills of the receivers he throws to.

I feel great about the receiving corps. With Mike Williams back on the squad, Marcus Sales, Donte Davis, and Paulus’ familiar target Lavar Lobdell, Paulus has an athletic and talented group of receivers on the field. He can make them look good, and they can make him look good. Always the type of situation you want to see in a QB-WR relationship.

However, the offensive line situation is troubling. Mike, Marcus, Donte, and Lavar won’t even see a pass if the OL doesn’t do its job. For the past several years, the OL has been a sore spot on a poor team. A lack of discipline with false start penalties, holding penalties, and way too many sacks or rushes allowed. Paulus may be a talented QB, but the man needs a few seconds for the receivers to run their routes and get open to catch the pass. I believe the success of Paulus, and indeed of the entire offense, will rest squarely on the success of the OL.

Looking forward to Greg Paulus’s debut this Saturday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers… wow, I hope the Dome is rocking! A noon start will cut down on the drunkenness of fans (like me, though an 8AM tailgating start may change this statement), but there’s a ton of reasons for SU fans to pack the Dome. After all, hope springs eternal in Syracuse, right? No matter how bleak things look, we always have that sunny optimism going into that first game. Sure, it usually comes crashing down 2 or 3 series into the game, but can’t we have our moment?

The 2009 Golden Gophers have three-quarters of its defensive secondary returning this season – a unit that ranked 10th in pass defense in the Big Ten(11) last year. So IF Paulus can get the ball into the secondary, we may see a potent Syracuse offense. Assuming the Gophers haven’t improved since last year. And let’s not forget the fact that the Gophers haven’t seen this offensive unit; not on the field, and not on film. With a new QB and a new coaching staff (and this being a season opener), who knows what the Syracuse offense will throw at Minnesota? Answer: not Minnesota. A quick couple of offensive strikes by Syracuse can set the tone for the rest of the game, and leave the Gophers scratching their heads (or digging holes… is that what they do?).

The Weekly QB Watch
Going into the upcoming game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the probability of starting is as follows:
Greg Paulus – 100%
Ryan Nassib – 0%
Cam Dantley – 0%
Charley Loeb – 0%
Other – 0%
Follow this section each week for the predictions to change. Or stay the same. Hopefully stay the same.

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