Last season, the Syracuse University football program used a productive running attack, which featured 1,000-yard running back Delone Carter, to help finish 8-5 overall and collect a 36-34 victory over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl. A critical part of the Orange smash-mouth attack was a physical offensive line that helped SU grind out many low-scoring victories -- in seven of SU's eight Big East Conference games, the Orange scored more than 20 points just once.
The story will be much of the same this season as SU returns four of its five starters from 2010-11 line. The biggest name on that line will be junior left tackle Justin Pugh (6-foot-6, 299-pounds), who last year earned second-team All-Big East honors. Pugh, along side best friend and teammate junior right guard Zack Chibane (6-5, 298), will anchor the left side of the Orange OL that not only will protect the blind side of starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, but will try to make holes for starting running back Antwon Bailey.
On the right side of the line will be seniors, right guard Andrew Tiller (6-5, 328) and right tackle Michael Hay (6-5, 279). Last season, Tiller started in 13 games, while Hay started in 12.
The "newcomer" of the OL is sophomore center Macky MacPherson (6-2, 265). MacPherson, who played in 13 games last season, will try and fill the shoes of Ryan Bartholomew, who played well enough last year that he earned a roster spot in the East-West Shrine game.
What is a concern is whether or not the Orange have enough depth on the OL. As of Monday, SU was dressing only seven scholarship lineman. The backups, which feature junior Andrew Phillips 6-6, 280), junior Lou Alexander (6-4, 329), senior Ian Allport (6-5, 306) and senior Nick Lepak (6-5, 349). Each have limited experience and many haven't had a chance to learn in training camp because of injuries -- Allport and Lepak have been sidelined with concussions, while Sean Hickey, who was predicted to be the backup at right tackle, will be out for the season with a knee injury.
In conclusion, the strongest aspect of the 2011-'12 Orange should be the OL -- and any football fan will tell you, that's never a bad thing. Despite some other questions on the offense and defense, Pugh and Chibane, who could be the best left tackle-guard combo in the Big East, will be a part of the most stable SU unit. What's even more impressive is that the right side of the SU line, Tiller, Hay, should be just as solid. However, after the starters there are a lot of questions marks. The hope for 'Cuse fans is that every starter stays healthy -- of course, that's asking a lot -- and the corps is dominate as predicted.
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