The Syracuse Football Team Will Go As Far As Ryan Nassib Takes Them This Season

Well ladies and gents, it’s game week.

In five days, the Orange and Wildcats will kick off to start the 2012 season. One of the keys for Syracuse to find success Saturday is without a doubt going to have to be through the air.

One of the biggest complaints about Ryan Nassib heading in to this season is his “inability” to throw a deep ball. That if he is in a 3rd and 2 situation he is terrific, but a 3rd and 8 situation he is terrible. That he constantly checks down, and never takes a shot down field because he is incapable of making the big play, causing the offense to stall and fail.

I’m here to tell you that is nonsense.

Has Nassib checked down in the past? Sure. Did he throw a lot of deep balls the past season? No he didn’t. But anyone who thinks that is because he is incapable simply isn’t watching.

Nassib has gone virtually his entire college career without a deep threat. The upgrade to his receiving core this season is head and shoulders above anything he has had to work with in the past.

The Orange have one of their most dangerous receiving cores in recent years. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Alec Lemon is healthy. Marcus Sales is back for his first game following his three touchdown game in the Pinstripe Bowl. We will finally see Ashton Broyld in an Orange uniform. Nassib has the deepest core of skill players that he has had in the past three seasons.

When you think of great quarterbacks in Syracuse University history, you think of the legends. Donovan McNabb. Marvin Graves. Don McPherson. And soon enough, you will be able to say the name Ryan Nassib with these players.

You heard me right, by the time Ryan Nassib throws his last pass in an Orange uniform; he will be among those elite group of players. With 44 touchdown passes, Nassib is easily on pace to pass both McPherson and Graves on the Syracuse list of career touchdown passes, with McPherson at 46, and Graves at 48. His current .591 completion percentage ranks third in Syracuse history, behind the elite Graves and Greg Paulus, who only played the position for one season.

In today’s game of football, passing is much more the premium than in the past, which could explain such stellar numbers for Nassib. But there is one list that he is not on that is even more impressive for the third year starter: career interceptions.

All of these great names: Graves, McNabb, and McPherson all make the list. And although Nassib may crack the top ten by the time his career is finished, Ryan will more than likely finish his Syracuse career with more passing attempts than any quarterback in Syracuse history. All of these statistics point to one key point: The Syracuse football team will go as far as their starting quarterback will take them this season.

October 29, 2011; Louisville, KY, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib (12) looks to pass against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half of play at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated Syracuse 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

In a season with a lot of new pieces, Nassib is the one thing that remains constant for a team that needs leadership following a disappointing end to last season. The 6’2, 229 pound graduate student has played out his career for Syracuse with nothing but class amidst criticism. When former Duke point guard Greg Paulus came to Syracuse to play out his only season of eligibility in football, it brought a rift amongst some players, according to a 2010 interview from the Daily Orange with then Syracuse receiver Donte Davis.

“Most definitely, we thought (Nassib) should have been the guy starting against Minnesota since the spring. Coach Marrone wanted to do something different, I guess. He had different plans. Ryan was the better fit. He was ready to play Greg (Paulus) – it wasn’t like he wasn’t good enough, but it was him coming on after not playing football for four years. Ryan had a clear advantage over him. Ryan was closer to the receivers and to the team, and he proved himself during the spring. I feel like he should have had the starting job.”

After losing his starting position just two months after it was given to him during spring practice in 2009 to Paulus, Nassib didn’t skip a beat in an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard:

“Personally it was a little disappointing from my own standpoint, but as a team, once I look at the whole picture I understand what the coaches are trying to do and trying to give the team the best chance to win”.

Does that sound like a 2009 redshirt freshman who just lost his job to a newcomer to you?

Nassib continued to work on his game behind Paulus, completing 52.9 percent of his passes while playing in ten games for the Orange as a backup that season. The following year, that number rose to 56.4%, and again in 2011 to a staggering 62.4%.

But despite these improvements, it all comes back to Nassib’s biggest criticism. His inability to throw a deep ball. After all, Marvin Graves averaged 9 yards per attempt. McNabb average 8.9 yards per attempt, and Don McPherson averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, with Nassib nowhere to be found in the top ten, with just a 6.5 yard per attempt average. But remember this: Graves had the second all-time leading Syracuse receiver Shelby Hill for his entire Syracuse career, as well as all-time leading receiver Marvin Harrison for two seasons. Donovan McNabb had Kevin Johnson and Quinton Spotwood, also on the Syracuse list for top ten receivers all-time.

Oct. 8 2011; New Orleans, LA, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib (12) thanks fans after they defeated the Tulane Green Wave at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-US PRESSWIRE

Nassib’s best target he has ever thrown to? Mike Williams in 2009 during a season in which he threw just 68 pass attempts. With the addition of freshman Ashton Broyld, as well as the reemergence of Marcus Sales after missing all of last season with off the field issues, Nassib may finally have the deep threats at receiver that he has been looking for. Throw in a healthy Alec Lemon, and Jeremiah Kobena who impressed many with his performance in the 2012 spring game, and the expectation is set for Nassib’s numbers to improve yet again in his final season with the Orange.

But the criticisms are still there. In a blog post from ESPN on March 6, 2012, Nassib’s abilities were again called in to question when discussing the best passers in the Big East heading in to next season:

“Geno Smith is gone, and so is Zach Collaros. So who is the best passer returning in the Big East? Statistically speaking, that would be Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, with 2,685 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. With all dues respect to Nassib, the title of best quarterback in the Big East is no doubt there for the taking.”

Nassib’s response? Completing 11 out of 18 passes for 163 yards in a spring game with limited play calling and a Syracuse defense that is more prepared for the Syracuse offense than any team they will face all season. When asked about the lack of offensive points in the inter-squad scrimmage, Nassib again answered like a leader should:

we wish we could have scored a little bit more points. But at the end of the day…(we won).”

No matter the statistics, no matter if it is pretty or ugly, Ryan Nassib is about winning. Prior to the Pittsburgh game last season, Nassib was preparing to finish one of the greatest single seasons for a quarterback in Syracuse history. When asked about this feat by Dave Rahme of the Post-Standard, Nassib replied very matter-of-factly:

“ To myself and my teammates, it really comes down to wins…wins and playing in big games and being successful.”

But last season was not a success despite a 5-2 start with a thrashing of West Virginia in the Carrier Dome. Following a season where the Orange suffered a second half collapse losing their final five games of the year, the pressure is absolutely on Nassib to perform and get this football team back to a bowl game. With spring practices being closed this season, it is difficult to place a barometer of expectation on this team heading in to next season.

To me, I believe the expectations of this football team should be on par with the expectation of Ryan Nassib: improved, with a high level of toughness and fortitude. This team will go as far as Ryan Nassib will take them in what should be an interesting last hoorah that will place him among the career greats at his position in Syracuse history.

The first game in the Carrier Dome will be important for Ryan Nassib to perform at a high level and to make a statement to set the tone for the rest of the season. This game can absolutely be a statement made against a young secondary, and I expect Nassib to take more shots down field than we have ever seen in the past.