It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Halfway through last season, Syracuse and its pass-happy offense was 2-4 and struggling to move the ball. The running game had grown stale — though without getting a ton of carries, it was hard for the backs to actually get in the rhythm of the game. Things would change course mid-year though, as a balanced attack led SU to a 6-1 record the rest of the way. And while he wasn’t the only ball-carrier (far from it), starter Jerome Smith was at the center of it all. After amassing just 355 yards over the first six games, he had 816 over the final seven, proving himself to be a primary back, fully capable of carrying the load for this offense. He also racked up the Orange’s fifth straight 1,000-yard rushing season, entering him into an already elite fraternity and knocking on the door for much more in the team’s history books.
With much of last year’s passing game gone, the Syracuse attack will be taking on a very different look this season (or so it’s thought), likely running the ball at a much higher rate. Smith is the catalyst behind that strategy, as the 6’0″ 217-pound back mixes between-the-tackles running with home run abilities to keep defenses on their feet. Mixed with Prince-Tyson Gulley, who’s quicker and runs along the edge, you’ve got a perfect mixture of “thunder and lightning” the likes of which are difficult to fully prepare for. The two-back system already has folks excited this year — primarily offensive coordinator George McDonald, who’s regularly gushed to the media about the backfield’s abilities multiple times.
Given the shared workload though, can Smith surpass last year’s already strong numbers? I don’t see why not. The junior’s 227 attempts last season are likely to be surpassed, though this time around, he’ll be receiving a consistent number of carries as they’ll throw the ball less. SU’s line started the year a bit banged up last season too, so if they can stay healthy, it’s another big boost. Some might have seen the Pinstripe Bowl as the SU backfield’s peak (Smith and Gulley combined for 365 yards on the ground), but it may have just been the group’s coming out party. Syracuse is sure to compete this year, and it’ll happen on Smith’s back.