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Rookie Syracuse coach facing big challenge in ACC

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)

New head coach, new quarterback, almost new staff, and new conference. Any way you cut it, the Syracuse Orange have a lot of challenges entering their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Doug Marrone's departure to become the coach of the Buffalo Bills in January left Scott Shafer, his successor, in somewhat of a bind. Whether the staff Shafer has assembled can keep the Orange on the upswing - Syracuse has won the Pinstripe Bowl twice in the past three years - is a big question.

''Work hard, improve daily, start to gel as a team,'' Shafer said. ''Nothing's changed, other than we've got a bunch of new faces out there. Nothing's changed as far as who are going to be our players. Looking forward to those kids competing, showing us what they're all about.''

The competition will get tougher this season, too. In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Syracuse is in the same division as Clemson and Florida State.

The Orange are again spending time in the preseason at Fort Drum, an Army post about an hour's drive north of campus, to work on small group leadership, hoping that will help produce team chemistry. No cell phones and no internet should help.

Five things to watch for from Syracuse:

1. ROOKIE COACH: Shafer replaces Marrone after four years as a defensive assistant. He as lost considerable talent on both sides of the ball. Marrone preached discipline, accountability, character, and integrity, rejuvenating a team that went 10-37 under his predecessor, Greg Robinson. Syracuse finished 2012 at 8-5 after beating West Virginia 38-14 in the Pinstripe Bowl and earned a share of the Big East regular-season title with a 5-2 conference mark, its best since Paul Pasqualoni's 2001 team went 6-1. Shafer has promised to follow that lead with a foundation based on attitude, effort, and enthusiasm.

2. ROOKIE QUARTERBACK: Ryan Nassib is gone after one of the finest careers a Syracuse quarterback has ever had. To help replace him, Shafer lured Oklahoma graduate transfer Drew Allen to do what Greg Paulus did a few seasons back and give the offense a one quick fix. Allen is competing with junior Terrel Hunt to be the starter. The offensive line has a big hole to fill, too, after stalwart offensive tackle Justin Pugh left early for the NFL.

3. RUNNING TO DAYLIGHT: The backfield duo of Jerome Smith (1,171 rushing yards in 2012, fifth highest in school history) and Prince-Tyson Gulley gives the Orange a solid 1-2 punch on the ground. Gulley ran for a career-best 208 yards and had three touchdowns, while Smith added 157 yards as the Orange bid a blustery farewell to the Big East with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl last December. Syracuse enters the ACC on a roll after finishing 2012 with six wins in its last seven games.

4. CATCH AS CATCH CAN: Whoever gets the nod at quarterback won't have two of the luxuries Nassib had. Wideouts Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales also graduated, and they combined for 136 catches, 15 TDs and nearly 2,000 yards receiving last year. The most experienced returning wideout is junior Jarrod West (43 catches, 588 yards). Quinta Funderbunk, who sat out last year after transferring from Arkansas, and Alvin Cornelius III, also a redshirt last year, are in the mix. Beckett Wales is on the list for the John Mackey Award, named for the Syracuse great and given annually to the best tight end in college football.

5. DEFENSE CAN'T REST: One of the Orange's strong points figures to be the linebacking corps with Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis leading the way. The secondary loses just one starter, but he was awfully big. Strong safety Shamarko Thomas was the top tackler in 2012 and now is a rookie on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jay Bromley anchors the defensive line. Syracuse had just nine interceptions last season and allowed 378.8 yards offensively per game.

Predicted finish in ACC: Last (7th) in the Atlantic Division.

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Online: AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/

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Follow Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947

Tagged: Syracuse, Jarrod West, Drew Allen

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