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Running game is Syracuse’s sure thing

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SYRACUSE — Just two days before the season opener, the Syracuse University starting quarterback competition is still a mystery.

But whether Drew Allen or Terrel Hunt line up under center, they will unquestionably have plenty of weapons surrounding them in the backfield. Topping that list is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading returning rusher — junior Jerome Smith — who became the fifth straight SU back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark last season.

Whether or not he can repeat that feat could depend on how many carries he has to share with his teammates.

“I think all those things will come as long as I keep getting better and the team keeps getting better,” said Smith, who finished with 1,171 rushing yards last year, the fifth-most all-time for the Orange.

“I think all the accomplishments and individual goals will get there.”

But Smith said he is happy to share the workload, something that Curtis Brinkley (2008), Delone Carter (2009-10) and Antwon Bailey (2011) did not.

“It’s not as important as winning more games than we won last year,” Smith said of the 1,000-yard milestone. “If we all get 600 yards and we get to go to a better bowl game and win more games, that’s probably better than just me getting a thousand yards and being selfish about it.”

Smith, one of four of SU’s elected captains, will have to split time primarily with senior Prince-Tyson Gulley, the ACC’s third-leading returning rusher with 830 yards.

The Smith-Gulley pairing — which combined for 2,001 rushing yards — is the fifth-highest returning rushing tandem in the nation. They ranked third among returning backfield duos with 2,366 rushing and receiving yards combined.

Gulley showed that he could be ready for an even bigger role in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl victory over West Virginia, posting career highs of 26 carries for 213 yards to go with five catches for 56 yards and three total touchdowns. First-year coach Scott Shafer, who was promoted from the defensive coordinator position after Doug Marrone left to coach the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, isn’t concerned about a logjam at the position.

“I think we have a good plan both in the kicking game as well as the offensive side of the game plans to try to immerse the kids into different situations that we can plug them into,” Shafer said. “It’s a good problem to have, but we’re creatively finding ways to get them on the field.”

Add to that the enigma that is Ashton Broyld, last year’s “tank back;” Adonis Ameen-Moore; and a pair of freshmen that highly impressed the coaching staff during spring practice.

Broyld was touted as a multi-skilled back as a true freshman last season but struggled to find a regular role.

He was rumored to be in Marrone’s doghouse after losing a fumble late in a 17-10 loss at Minnesota. He sat three of the next four games then missed the last two games of the year due to injury.

Shafer has slotted Broyld as the starting “H-back,” where he too will require his share of touches out of the backfield.

“I hate the world ‘potential.’ Because it means you haven’t done anything yet,” Broyld said. “But I mean I haven’t done anything yet. I’m just working and I’m ready to show people.”

Shafer moved Ameen-Moore to the fullback spot and has freshmen George Morris II and Devante McFarlane returning kicks.

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