Former Syracuse nose tackle Arthur Jones graduated and was drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens following the 2009 season.
Syracuse had a monstrous hole to fill. He was the centerpiece of a revamped defensive unit that improved its nationally rankings in several NCAA defensive statistical categories. The Orange went from 100th to 6th in sacks, 101st to 31st in rush defense and 114th to 37th in total defense.
Jones could take credit for a lot of it. As a senior, he had seven sacks in nine games before a knee injury cut his season short.
But what Syracuse may have lost didn't show in its first game when the Orange pounded Akron 29-3. The defense scored a touchdown when Doug Hogue blocked a field goal try and Mike Holmes returned it 57 yards.
It was the lowest point total scored by a Syracuse opponent in five years and the first time Syracuse won its opening game in seven years. The defense, now melded by Jones' brother, Chandler, and linebackers Hogue and Derrell Smith, allowed just 168 yards of offense.
"We have more of a brotherhood," Jones said of the difference between last year's squad and what was on display in Akron. "There's nothing like trusting the person next to you."
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone put nine returning starters on the field defensively against Akron. True freshman linebacker Marquis Spruill supplied four tackles while freshman cornerback Jeremi Wilkes made three tackles. Both caught Jones' attention.
"They've had a huge impact," Jones said. "We've got guys stepping up that learn quickly."
Syracuse's defense was so stifling, it didn't allow a third down conversion in the first half. The Orange didn't allow the Zips in the red zone the entire game.
"We expect all of our players to perform at a level to win," Marrone said. "The corners played well. I don't know if we're going to find anything wrong on the tape in terms of how they played."
The biggest test for the defense, though, is when Syracuse takes on Washington on the road Saturday. The Huskies have Heisman hopeful quarterback Jake Locker who, as a freshman in 2007, led Washington to a 42-12 trouncing in the Carrier Dome.
But Syracuse has certainly changed since then, especially defensively.
"We've gotten better with team speed and we're bigger and stronger," Marrone said. "I think we're a better-looking team. I don't know what that means but we're taller, and we have more range in our players."
Arthur Jones is just a memory at Syracuse now, but unlike the great defensive players of the last decades, his absence wasn't noticed on the field. Syracuse started just as strongly as when Jones menaced opposing quarterbacks all last season.
THE BIG EAST MISSION
Three new coaches, Doug Marrone in his second season, and the Big East surviving a load of offseason talks about reorganizing or even disbanding the conference left the conference with a lot to prove this year.
The Big East wants to prove it belongs with the other major Bowl Championship Series teams. It wanted to prove that the best in the Big East deserved its automatic BCS bowl bid.
Then, opening week happened.
No. 15 Pittsburgh lost to unranked Utah. Kentucky beat Louisville, Michigan crushed Connecticut, and Fresno St. dominated Cincinnati. The Big East went 4-4 overall.
Four losses against four unranked teams is not a way to make a statement. No other BCS conference came close to going .500 during the opening weekend, which included wins against top-25 teams. The Big 12 was perhaps the most impressive with an 11-1 opening weekend mark. The ACC and SEC went 10-2 apiece and the Big Ten was 9-2. The Pac-10, where Syracuse travels next against Washington, was 6-4.
If the Big East really wants to impress the BCS, it has to beat the teams it should beat. That didn't happen during the opening weekend. Shockingly, Syracuse earned the marquee win for the conference.
This week's schedule is even less difficult with several schools taking on FCS opponents. Only South Florida has a ranked opponent when it travels to No. 8 Florida.
Once again, Syracuse could carry the Big East banner with a win against Washington. And a win, according to Chandler Jones, would earn some much-needed respect for the conference and the university.
"This is a big week," Jones said.
Sportswriter Daniel J. Cassavaugh covers Syracuse University football for the Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.