The Los Angeles Coliseum is the sight for Syracuse's primetime showdown with USC
It's hard to be optimistic if you're pulling for the orange and blue this weekend.
Syracuse University football hasn't won a game played west of the Mississippi since 1987, they haven't started a season with three straight victories since 1991, and their best defender, Chandler Jones, won't be traveling with the team this weekend.
Yet still, they will win. And that's just one of four bold predictions for Saturday night's showdown with USC that we will now examine.
Spruill could develop into one of the most dangerous defenders in the Big East
With defensive end Chandler Jones missing indefinitely with what's being vaguely described as a lower-body injury, Syracuse's best chance at getting to the quarterback now comes through linebacker Marquis Spruill. What the sophomore lacks in size (6'1", 216) he makes up for in speed, bursting through the gaps and into the backfield to disrupt the passing game.
In fact, Spruill's size seemed to play to his benefit against Rhode Island as the Rams offensive line seemed to lose him behind the wall of tackles and ends, allowing Spruill to make two key sacks late in the 21-14 victory on Sept. 10.
Pursuing USC quarterback Matt Barkley won't be easy—the junior has been sacked just 34 times in his collegiate career—but Spruill is presumably playing with a high level of confidence after the way he finished in Week 2. After Barkley picks apart a weak SU secondary, look for Orange defensive coordinator Scott Shafer to send Spruill after him.
Matt Barkley has flirted with 400-yard games twice before in his brief time at USC, but Saturday will be the night that he surpasses the mark.
Syracuse's secondary was on pace to allow Wake Forrest signal-caller Tanner Price to do just that (289 yards) on Sept. 1 before the defensive line knocked him out of the game early in the fourth quarter. Barkley belongs to a much higher tier of college quarterbacks than Price, so expect him to perform accordingly.
Orange cornerbacks Ri'Shard Anderson and Kevyn Scott will be no match for super sophomore Robert Woods, who has gone over 100 yards receiving in each of the Trojans first two games this season. Syracuse's only chance at containing Barkley will be to put him on the sideline in much the same manner that they did to Price.
Four years ago, while sitting through another disastrous Syracuse football display—this time against Pittsburgh—I sat in the Carrier Dome press box staring blankly at an empty slot on my interview request form. I was tired of the University trotting out the same mouthpieces after every loss and wanted to speak to someone new, I didn't didn't know who.
Then a guy named Van Chew ("Gesundheit!") laid out for an overthrown Cameron Dantley pass and made a full-extension grab in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown catch. It was just one of nine passes that Dantley would complete that day, and only the second reception that Chew had made since setting foot on the Syracuse campus earlier that fall.
But Chew wouldn't catch fire that season like I had expected him to. In fact, he caught only two more balls the rest of the year to finish his freshman campaign with four grabs. The following season saw him catch only two more than that.
But Ryan Nassib's ascension to the top of the depth chart has been a blessing for Chew. The two hooked up 28 times in Nassib's first six games as starter and Chew caught touchdowns in three straight games between Oct. 16 and Oct. 30. This season, Chew is on pace to catch 72 passes and has a reception in each of his last 15 games played. It's worth noting that Syracuse great Art Monk's longest-such streak was 13 games.
Both Dres Anderson (6 catches, 77 yards) and DeVonte Christopher of Utah (11 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD) were able to perform very well at the Los Angeles Coliseum in last week's loss to USC. Expect Chew to do the same Saturday night, but with one difference...
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.