It seems kind of funny that a quarterback who was running the show for Syracuse only a few years ago would already become overlooked when talking about the annals of Orange football history. Yet any time Syracuse’s struggles over the last 15 or so seasons come up in conversation, talk inevitably turns to Syracuse’s inability to put a competent quarterback behind center. Only with some prodding do far too many people remember that not so long ago, we had a kid named Ryan Nassib slinging it around and setting passing records left and right.
Oh, how soon we forget.
Don McPherson. Marvin Graves. Donovan McNabb. These are the names people remember as the greats at quarterback for the Syracuse Orange.
I can’t say I’m entirely sure why Ryan Nassib has become such a forgettable player for some Syracuse fans, either. Some people seem to dismiss him because, unlike Donovan McNabb, he never led the Orange to a major bowl game like the Fiesta or the Orange, or even the Gator Bowl, for that matter. But after a dismal era under Greg Robinson, which set the program back more than anyone could have ever appreciated, Ryan Nassib rode into town and played a massive role in pushing the Orange back in the direction of respectability.
Doug Marrone gets all of the credit, of course, and in large part that’s deserved. Marrone worked a minor miracle in taking a team that had won 10 games in the previous four years, and directed them to 25 victories and two bowl wins in his four seasons. But it stands to reason that, without Ryan Nassib, a good number of those victories would have wound up in the “L” column, instead.
Ryan was a relatively lightly recruited quarterback out of high school, playing in a run heavy offense at Malvern Prep and earning just a two star rating from Rivals. He was rated as just the seventh best quarterback in the state of Pennsylvania as a high school senior, and while he received some interest from schools like Penn State and Boston College, he was never a particularly hotly pursued recruit, except by Greg Robinson and the Syracuse coaching staff. In this instance, credit has to be given to G-Rob for recognizing Nassib’s talent when so many ignored it, and credit also to Nassib for sticking to his commitment to play for the Orange even through a coaching change.
When he was a redshirt freshman, Nassib seemingly had the edge in earning the starting nod in Marrone’s first season at the helm, but a wrench got thrown into that idea when Greg Paulus, the former CBA standout and Gatorade National Player of the Year who had originally chosen to play basketball for Coach K and Duke, decided to give football a try, transferring to his hometown team and getting the starting job.
Things didn’t go particularly smoothly for Paulus, as the four years away from the sport left a considerable amount of rust on the quarterback. Soon enough, he was splitting a bit of his playing time with Nassib, who possessed a vastly stronger arm. Paulus finished the year completing a Syracuse record 67.7% of his passes for 2,024 yards with 13 touchdowns and 14 picks, while Nassib converted on 52.9% of his passes for 422 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in limited duty as the Orange limped to a 4-8 mark in Marrone’s first season.
It’s easy to look back and wonder if things may have worked out a little differently had Nassib been in the lineup from the word go that season, particularly with Mike Williams ready, willing, and able to put up big numbers as a receiver in Marrone’s offense.
In terms of Nassib’s legacy, of course, that wouldn’t matter, since he’d still go on to set virtually every passing record in the book for Syracuse football. People tend to gloss over his first two seasons and focus primarily on his senior year, largely because that’s around the time the nation started to take notice. Suddenly, he was a darkhorse for several awards, and he was shooting up draft boards. By the time Marrone took the Buffalo job and April rolled around, some people actually thought he might go as high as the eighth pick. Instead, he slipped to the New York Giants in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
Still, slipping in the draft and sitting behind Eli Manning shouldn’t have pushed Nassib so quickly from the minds of Syracuse fans, but for some that seems to have happened. How quickly we forget this was a kid who had more pass attempts (1,312), completions (791), and yards (9,190) than anyone else in program history. Yet time after time, people talk about the Syracuse football program and its lack of national success and attention, pointing to the fact that the Orange haven’t been able to recruit a quarterback since Donovan McNabb.
Yes, McNabb was great. He is, truthfully, my favorite football player, at any level, in history. And we certainly haven’t had another McNabb. Mediocrity and, in some cases, subpar play became the norm at the quarterback position for Syracuse over the years, but the fact of the matter is that for a three year stretch from 20010-12, the Orange enjoyed some of the best quarterback play the program has ever seen.
So why are people so quick to dismiss Nassib? Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was on a team that didn’t have a lot of talent, and never came close to sniffing the Top 25 and only made two bowls – the somewhat lowly Pinstripe Bowl in each case – over that span. Some of it probably had to do with the fact that while Nassib could be great, he was a quarterback who had a tendency to run hot and cold. When he was hot, there weren’t many quarterbacks in America making the kinds of throws he was zipping in for completions. When he was cold, however…things got ugly. There never seemed to be much in between for Ryan, and I think the fact that he played to one extreme level or the other left his supporters thinking he was amazing (as they focused on the good), and his detractors decrying him at every turn (as they latched onto the bad).
It’s hard to argue with his production, though, and the fact that by the time he was a senior, he was running the best Syracuse offense since the McNabb era.
Syracuse is searching for a quarterback to pick up the slack right now, and while guys like Terrel Hunt and AJ Long have shown some quick flashes of being able to carry the load, it’s no secret that they’ve got some work ahead of them to get to Nassib’s level. Syracuse is at least putting out feelers for guys like John O’Korn and Michael O’Connor, signaling the fact that the coaching staff recognizes that it needs a lot better production from the QB spot to succeed moving forward.
Ryan Nassib took a lot of flak over the course of his career at Syracuse. He never really received the level of respect and historical appreciation he deserved. But be honest, even if you were never much of a Nassib fan, you’d kill to have him back there slinging the pigskin for the Orange in 2015. For some reason, there are people who don’t want to acknowledge how great Nassib could be for the Orange.
Eventually, he’ll get his due. For now, he’ll simply remain one of the most under appreciated superstars in recent Syracuse football history.