Syracuse has a lot of momentum going for them. In December, the program scored their first bowl victory in nearly a decade. In the five seasons prior to that, the Orange won just 14 games.
Three years ago, Doug Marrone left his post as the coordinator of one of the NFL's most explosive offenses in order to put his alma mater in precisely the position they find themselves tonight: a win away from regaining respect.
You can say what you will about Syracuse's lack of star power, but the Orange has never looked intimidated, no matter how over-matched, since Marrone took over. No greater evidence of that can be found than Sept. 12, 2009. Syracuse had lost Marrone's debut in overtime just a week before to a Big Ten doormat, Minnesota. Worse yet, it happened in front of their home fans. Worst of all, the team now had to travel to Beaver Stadium and take on Joe Paterno's top-five Nittany Lions.
Early in the game, it looked as though Penn State would demolish the Orange, tossing a 49-yard touchdown on their first drive of the game. They then forced a Syracuse punt after just four plays and proceeded to drive from their own four yard line to the Syracuse goal line. Four plays later, the college football world would be served notice that things were different with Marrone on the Syracuse sidelines.
Evan Royster, Joe Suhey, and Daryll Clark (twice) all tried to pound the ball through the Orange defense to put Penn State up 14-0...and all were turned back; Clark even fumbled the ball on fourth down. Syracuse would go on to lose 28-7, but their performance was memorable. This was not the same team that had gone 10-37 under Greg Robinson, despite the presence of a lot of the same names.
Now that Marrone has had three years to insert more of his own hand-picked recruits into his system, you can expect a better outcome. Add to that the fact that the Orange now have Ryan Nassib at quarterback instead of converted point guard Greg Paulus and you have a recipe for a memorable night in Southern California.