Paulus breaking down a whole new defense

The beleaguered Syracuse Orange football program reached a whole new level of desperation on Monday when they named Greg Paulus it’s starting quarterback for the 2009 campaign.  While any college program would roll out the red carpet for a signal-caller who completed 66 percent of his passes, 43 touchdowns, and a state-record 3,677 yards as a high school senior, few would do so for a player four years removed from their last competitive drop back.

Clearly Syracuse needed to try something.  After the failure of Greg Robinson, who went 10-37 with a 3-25 conference record in his four-year tenure, newly-appointed head coach Doug Marrone’s hands were virtually tied.  How do you not start the city’s prodigal son?  The prized recruit Syracuse lost to Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke basketball program would have to start on his abysmal hometown team.

While Paulus under center may be the best way to bolster attendance figures and put the program back in the national spotlight regardless of their win total or competitive level, is it plausible to think he can adequately lead a Divison I football team?

For those of you who say no, it has been done before.  But few have been able to achieve success after long lapses from the gridiron; and even fewer have been able to do it as a quarterback.

Chris Weinke is the first name to come to mind.  Weinke gave up a football scholarship to play in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system for 6 years.  Upon realizing his baseball potential was reached, he opted to attend Florida State for football, as he had originally committed there.  His four-year career included a national title as a junior and the Heisman Trophy as a senior.

Quincy Carter also enjoyed a successful college football career after a failed attempt at pro baseball. He signed with Georgia Tech in 1996, but was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and played three years in their system before returning to play at Georgia. He was a revelation as a freshman, and left school after three years as a second-round draft pick of the Cowboys to start an inconsistent pro career marred by a number of skirmishes with the law.

So it has been done before.  But Weinke and Carter each had four years to regain their form and find success.  Paulus’ window of opportunity is just 12 games.

It’s not like Paulus is joining an established program as Weinke and Carter did.  The Seminoles in the ’90s were a juggernaut, with two national championships and eight ACC titles. Carter’s Georgia had success in spurts, but still reached six bowls in the 90s.

The 2009 Orange is anything but.  Paulus is inheriting a team that passed for a Big East-worst 121.5 yards per game in 2008, has an atrocious offensive line, and whose defense surrendered 32.7 points per game.

On top of those ugly realities, first year coach Doug Marrone spent his last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the pass-happy New Orleans Saints in the NFL.  Drew Brees, his gunslinger in the bayou, passed almost 40 times per game.  If Marrone sticks with the scheme he is most familiar with, most of the offensive load will be squarely on the shoulders of Paulus.

While he hasn’t read defenses in a while and will be making the high school to college transition after a four-year hiatus, he is more mature than most college players—an advantage Weinke and Carter enjoyed as well.  Starting at point guard for three years at basketball titan Duke is an experience no other QB in the college ranks can claim.  The “intangibles” you hear analysts talk about—his composure, ability to handle pressure, ability to take command of the huddle, etc.—will no doubt be his strong point. Will that be enough?

We will find out on Sept. 5 when the Orange takes the field against Minnesota.

-James Hill ’11

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