WHEN ARE THEY PLAYING SCOTT? Saturday, October 31st, some call it Halloween
VENUE: The multi-purpose Carrier Dome
KICKOFF: Shortly after 12 noon
THE SERIES: UC leads 5-4
THE LAST ONE: Bearcats won 30-10 last November 29
This is a game that everyone wishes would be better. Syracuse wishes it would be better and certainly the Big East wishes the Orange would return to its past status. Heck, in recent years the departed Paul Pasqualoni now looks legendary compared to the substandard numbers Syracuse has put up.
Greg Robinson (now Michigan's defensive coordinator) was an awful fit, trying to bring a pro-style passing game to a school that gave you Jim Brown, Ernie Davis (the field's named after him), Leroy Kelly, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka,etc. A cumulative record of 10-37 gave a fan base a new appreciation of Pasqualoni, who at least guided the Orange to some bowl games.
Truth be told, the most respected coach hanging around Syracuse games in recent years has been the retired Dick MacPherson (a one-time UC assistant) who coached from 1981-91 and led the 'Cuse to an 11-0-1 record in 1987 with a tie against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
Now the man is Doug Marrone, who graduated from Syracuse the year MacPherson was wrapping it up and moving onto the NFL Patriots for a couple years. Like Robinson, Marrone comes most recently from the NFL where he was offensive coordinator with the Saints. While you can't argue the offensive prowess of the Saints, it remains to be seen how NFL coaches adapt to taking the reins of major college programs.
So far, Marrone is doing what he can with a 3-4 record. The Orange have some talented players (they'd been losing them to Greg Schiano and Rutgers in recent years) but the fact is their most famous player was shooting hoops for Coach K at Duke last year...Greg Paulus.
The schedule is such that Syracuse has every opportunity to improve on last year's 3-9 mark (and they've already equaled the win total). I mean, what other Big East program has EIGHT, count'em EIGHT home games. Not only that, but UC is the last of what has been a SIX-game homestand!
SIX straight home games! Now, I don't want to say that smells fishy, but.....
Oh well, as everyone has said, the league needs Syracuse to be good to boost up everyone else. They are more talented, and they are at home. And much like last week, UC can't let their guard down and assume the Orange are just going to lay down and let the Bearcats waltz into the endzone.
In a strange, almost unfair way, I think UC will (if the game does end up lopsided) get more credit for a big win over Syracuse than they did by beating Louisville at Nippert. I'm not so sure Syracuse is any better than Louisville, but in the slanted view of the East Coast outlets, beating up the Orange will have more significance.
Now, minus the creepy UPS guy, let's go to the board and draw this thing up.....
UC's offense vs. Syracuse defense
The story again for this one will focus on the quarterback, although the drama shouldn't be as heavy. With Zach Collaros being nearly perfect and throwing for three touchdowns, there's really no rush to bring Tony Pike back. On the other hand, Brian Kelly knows this coaching business and he knows not to "show his hand" if he doesn't have to. So, despite the medical facts and the reality of what Collaros did vs. Louisville. The starting quarterback was officially listed as Pike OR Collaros OR Chazz Anderson in this week's game notes. However, Kelly clarified in Tuesday's press conference that if Tony Pike can't go (and there's numerous reasons not to rush him now) that Zach Collaros will start. In the end, when the Bearcats can run and catch like they did against the Cardinals, it's just not going to matter. Sure, Syracuse sacked Akron's QB five times last weekend, but UC and both Pike and Collaros played against USF and the Bulls have had the toughest pass rush to date. The Orange have a good MLB in Derrell Smith, but he was gimped up a bit against the Zips. However, with as much as Doug Marrone is building this game up, saying UC "might be the best team in the country", I don't think there's much doubt about him playing.
Nod: Too many weapons for UC and while the Carrier Dome can be loud, if UC marches down and scores quickly and often, the Orange fans will head back to their tailgating tents for further beverages. I've seen this firsthand and as loud as the place can be, the cavernous facility can be equally as quiet.
Syracuse offense vs. UC defense
As mentioned, Greg Paulus is the "point" man at QB. He has playmaking abilities. However, he still has some rust and as recently as the West Virginia loss (34-13 Mountaineers) was pulled in favor of sophomore Ryan Nassib. Nassib also has some set plays to run and heaves the deep ball. Paulus was back starting last week against Akron, but I think UC's ever-improving defensive line can give him fits. At RB, Delone Carter ran for 170 yards against Akron, but UC's defense has been much stronger against the run since Fresno State's Ryan Mathews chewed them up a few games back. The best player Syracuse has is WR Mike Williams who was suspended last week. When healthy (and not suspended) Williams can be very productive (he caught 13 passes vs. USF).
Again, UC has Aaron Webster in the secondary who makes plays every week, as does Drew Frey, as does Dominique Battle, etc. The "no-name" defense is starting to get some name recognition.
Nod: Syracuse will score, but not enough.
The 'Cuse gave up a 98-yard kickoff return last week and that's not good when Mardy Gilyard is coming to town. Also, Darrin Williams has broken a long one and could do it again should Syracuse kick away from #1. Jake Rogers seems to have his wits about him and is punting and kicking well (including kickoffs). Yes, he missed a 50-yarder last week, but most college kickers do. Rogers has 50-plus yard power and the dome is perfect for long shots. I once saw Mark Dantonio let Kevin Lovell try a 61-yarder (he missed--Jon Bacon's 58-yarder--I saw that too--still reigns).
Nod: As long as Gilyard can see the kicks coming out of the lights and the domed ceiling, he's about due to break another one.
Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks
It's a unique situation in that both teams are dealing with QB situations. Brian Kelly's is better as he has Tony Pike, a Davey O'Brien semi-finalist and still in some Heisman talk. When he doesn't have Pike, he has Zach Collaros who would be starting on a lot of Big East teams. I've made no bones about it, I'm a big Collaros fan because of his versatility and track record. I think UC's offense is in fine hands whenever he's behind center. Yes, Pike should return as starter, but Collaros is pretty darn good.
On the other side, I detect controversy in the Syracuse ranks with "golden boy" Paulus and Ryan Nassib. Paulus brings the flash and the headlines, but Ryan Nassib appears to have a stronger gun and runs it better. This is not Pike and Collaros, this is a QB that someone went to great lengths to get and a youngster who maybe needs a harder look if Syracuse doesn't turn this thing around. One more thing...what's with EIGHT home games and SIX straight in the Carrier Dome! I still don't like it!
I look forward to the day the Bearcats are granted eight home games at the Nipp, don't you? (That's as likely as Mike Brown coming forward to fund Nippert Stadium expansion!)