Writer Spotlight: Joe Manganiello On Syracuse Football

With the Student Section staff unveiling a new ACC football roundtable on Tuesday, it’s worth looking at a different corner of that conference, but it’s also a good time to step back and appreciate the larger community of Bloguin writers.

What follows is a profile of a team, but it’s also a chance to showcase a Bloguin writer and tell you about some of the people who work at this place.

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The Student Section is fortunate to have a number of writers who contribute to other Bloguin sites: Bart Doan, Joseph Nardone, and now Steve Fetch all write at NBA site Crossover Chronicles. Mike Ferguson contributes to multiple Bloguin sites. TSS senior writer Kevin Causey contributes to NFL site This Given Sunday. I edit three Bloguin sites: Crossover Chronicles, The Student Section, and majors-only tennis site Attacking The Net, where I’m the sole writer (for now).

At Crossover Chronicles, several writers — some already mentioned — provide content for multiple Bloguin sites as well. One of them is senior writer Joe Manganiello, who has been helping out Bloguin culture site The AP Party — edited by Ian Casselberry, a staff writer for our baseball site, The Outside Corner.

Joe’s working knowledge of the NBA — it’s vast and detailed — led me to think he was a basketball specialist, so it came as a revelation to me that he covers Syracuse football for the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York.

Get to know Joe Manganiello and the Watertown Daily Times in this Q-and-A below. Also get to know Syracuse football for 2015 while becoming more familiar with one of your neighborhood Bloguin writers.

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Introduction (By Joe Manganiello)

Scott Shafer stressed that his Syracuse football team will be leaving the past in the past at SU Media Day on Saturday, which you can read about in my report. 

Heading into his third season as head coach, there’s tremendous pressure on Shafer to rebound following a disastrous 3-9 campaign that was ravaged by injuries.

Returning for the Orange is fifth-year starting quarterback Terrel Hunt, who was sidelined for the final seven games of 2014 with a fractured fibula. Hunt and sophomore linebacker Zaire Franklin joined Shafer on Saturday, talking to the media about the progression of key contributors on both sides of the ball.

There’s a feeling that if the Orange cannot return to a bowl game in 2015 — win 6 games — Shafer will be fired, and new Syracuse Athletic Director Mark Coyle will hire “his own guy.” The Orange were the second-worst team in the ACC a season ago. But Shafer is a football fan’s football coach, and with a promising 2016 recruiting class set to join the Orange next year, it would be largely disappointing to see another coach run out of town — Syracuse has had four different coaches over the past decade.

5 QUESTIONS ON SYRACUSE FOOTBALL

The Student Section: From 1949 through 2004, Syracuse had only four head football coaches. Since 2005, the Orange have had three. Yet, Scott Shafer has made some odd comments to the press during his short tenure. Are the university and the fan base comfortable with Shafer, realizing they need stability, or is Shafer in a situation where he needs to prove himself to the community a little more?

Joe Manganiello: What Orange fans want more than anything is stability. However far removed Syracuse gets from the Greg Robinson era (10-37, 2005-2008), the program has nonetheless had only two winning seasons since 2002. Whatever fuzzy feelings Doug Marrone had built up after a pair of 8-win campaigns and bowl game victories were eviscerated when he fled, in rapid succession, to the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars — the world is your dream job, Doug.

Scott Shafer enters the 2015 season with a flawed roster — a terribly young defense, thin trenches, and a largely unproven, brand new offense. Syracuse fans must be patient — Shafer has secured quite a haul for his 2016 recruiting class, and running him out of town subject to bowl eligibility only starts the clock all over again.

TSS: What is the most realistic fix — be it a player, a unit of the offense, or a play-selection approach — for the team’s red-zone woes?

JM: Remember this name: Jamal Custis. The 6-foot-5 sophomore turned heads at the spring game, and Terrel Hunt sees Custis developing into a first round pick before his time is up in Orange. Syracuse has decent height at wide receiver and tight end this fall — Josh Parris (6-4), Cam MacPherson (6-4), Trey Dunkelberger (6-4), Adly Enoicy (6-5) — including No. 1 receiver Steve Ishmael (6-2). However, Custis has special potential, the kind that has the Syracuse basketball team asking him to walk on and the Sporting News predicting a leap to the professional basketball someday.  Custis needs to play in the red zone.

TSS: Have the men’s basketball program’s troubles changed the way the football team is perceived, and if so, how?

JM: Not really. Syracuse fans keep the basketball and football programs in separate compartments of the mind. A perennial contender, Syracuse basketball has something to lose: a reputation as a national powerhouse led by one of the most esteemed coaches ever. Fewer scholarships equates to fewer options for the basketball program, a program still in the infancy stages of establishing itself in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Football, on the other hand, doesn’t have anywhere near the same pressure. Shafer told ESPN in April that “there’s stuff going on on the other side that doesn’t affect us,” and he feels his only obligation is being direct with his players and their families. 25 scholarships, 100 scholarships — Orange football has far bigger fish to fry than worrying about an NCAA infraction that fails to ban it from postseason play.

TSS: What’s the most underreported story surrounding Syracuse football, one month before the season?

JM: This Syracuse defense is really, really young. If Zaire Franklin counts as an incumbent starter — and he shouldn’t; Franklin started the final three games of 2014 after an injury to Marquez Hodge — then the Orange have four returnees to the defense. Ron Thompson, Hodge and Franklin will make a dynamic trio of tacklers, and Julian Whigham has all the motivation in the world to rebound from a shaky junior season. Otherwise the Orange will be starting a pair of safeties, whoever leaves camp with the nod, without starting experience. Up front, defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough will almost certainly be rotating true freshmen to make up for lost bodies. Franklin and Hodge will stand out, but at Sam linebacker Parris Bennett and Jonathan Thomas combine for no previous experience.

TSS: Finally, Joe, a fifth item for you to consider: Syracuse plays three non-conference games it should win. In order to find a bowl bid, the Orange must win three ACC games. One is against Wake at home. The other two wins — if they come — will likely emerge from this set of teams:

Virginia (in Charlottesville)
Pittsburgh (home)
North Carolina State (in Raleigh)
Boston College (home)

Rate those four win opportunities from most favorable to least favorable for Syracuse.

JM: 1. Virginia. Last season the gap between Virginia’s and Syracuse’s offenses (105 points) exceeded that of Virginia and Clemson (91 points). That said, Virginia was a bad football team last year, and the Orange could very well be a 4-1 team coming off a win against South Florida.

2. Boston College. Orange fans hate the Eagles. Hate, hate, hate. In the final Carrier Dome game of the season, hopefully the Orange faithful can turn the game in a crazed Dome.

3. Pittsburgh. The Panthers allowed 342 points last season, which isn’t terrible, but look for the Orange to attack early and pounce on their former Big East opponent in the Dome.

4. North Carolina State. This game is typically a loss for the Orange: on the road against a superior offense. However, Syracuse could carve up one of last season’s worst rush defenses and dominate time of possession.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |

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