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With staff in place, Syracuse, Shafer mold team

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)

When former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone shuffled off to Buffalo to take over the Bills, he ended up leaving the cupboard almost bare for new coach Scott Shafer.

Since Marrone was officially announced as coach of the Bills Jan. 7, he's brought along seven members of his staff from Syracuse, including offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Though Marrone brought Syracuse football back to a respectable place and laid a solid foundation - he was 25-25 in four seasons at his alma mater with bowl victories over Kansas State and West Virginia - Shafer has his work cut out as the school prepares to leave the Big East Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference July 1.

At least the new staff is in place to hit the recruiting trail as signing day looms:

- Chuck Bullough, a two-time All-Big Ten linebacker at Michigan State, takes Shafer's place as defensive coordinator after two seasons as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns. He was linebackers coach at Western Michigan in 2005 when Shafer was defensive coordinator there, and also spent five years at UCLA.

- George McDonald takes over for Hackett as offensive coordinator. McDonald and Shafer worked together at Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.

- DeAndre Smith, who has mentored nine 1,000-yard rushers in 14 years of collegiate coaching, will coach the running backs. Smith was running backs coach at Illinois and also was on staff with Shafer and McDonald at Northern Illinois.

- Tim Lester takes over as quarterbacks coach. Lester just completed his fifth season as coach at Elmhurst College, where he guided the Bluejays to their most successful season in school history.

- Clark Lea is in charge of the linebackers, replacing Steve Morrison, who left Syracuse for personal reasons after just one season with the Orange. During a three-year stint at UCLA, Lea worked with Bullough and joins the Orange after coaching linebackers at Bowling Green.

- Shafer, one of Marrone's first hires, managed to maintain some continuity, retaining defensive line coach Tim Daoust and wide receivers coach Rob Moore.

''The No. 1 trait I was looking for was character,'' Shafer said. ''Sometimes, it's really hard to investigate that word. You can talk to people you know that have worked with people, and sometimes you have to go that route. I feel like I'm extremely pleased and somewhat blessed here to have prior work experience, especially with these first two guys that'll be our coordinators.''

McDonald has a solid recruiting resume - he was tabbed as one of the Top 25 recruiters in the country by Rivals.com in 2012 - and that should be a bonus. So far, only one recruit that was on the Orange's radar has decided to go elsewhere, but it was three-star quarterback Zach Allen of Texas, who changed his mind and enrolled at TCU.

Syracuse will start spring practice with a primary goal of replacing quarterback Ryan Nassib, who set numerous records this past season in the Orange's up-tempo, no-huddle offense that Hackett installed, and Allen was expected to be a top contender. That leaves Austin Wilson, of Enola, Pa. as the lone quarterback coming in. He's among 15 remaining players targeted by Syracuse.

''Playing a first-time starter is not easy, but it can be done. It can be done successfully,'' Lester said. ''You see it in the NFL, you see it in college. I'm excited to get to work with those guys physically and mentally as soon as we get done with recruiting.''

Scout.com ranks Syracuse's class at No. 72, while Rivals.com has it pegged at No. 79, a drop of nearly 10 spots since Marrone's departure. Among Syracuse's future ACC rivals, only North Carolina State, whose recruiting class is ranked No. 81 by Scout.com, has a worse rating than Syracuse.

Five new players already have enrolled and started classes. National letter of intent signing day is Feb. 6.

The Orange, under former coach Doug Marrone, went 8-5 last season, and defeated West Virginia, 38-14, in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Tagged: Syracuse, Illinois, Michigan

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