Unfamiliar Territory: The Syracuse Orange Look to Return To a Bowl Game

Dan Kelley@DanKelleyWritesCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2009

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Doug Marrone, right, of the Syracuse Orangemen talks with assistant head coach Bob Casullo as they watch the game during the second half of their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium  September 12, 2009 in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State won 28-7. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

It’s been nearly five years since the Orange of Syracuse last competed in a postseason football game, although it's felt like a lot longer.

It was only 2004 when the Orange were the victims of a vicious 51-14 beating at the hands of Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl, and the restless Syracuse fans were calling for the head of then Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni.

After the success the Syracuse University football program enjoyed during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s, including numerous bowl victories and Big East championships, six win seasons were considered unacceptable.

New athletics director Daryl Gross heard the murmuring of the Orange faithful and flipped the guillotine switch on the Paul Pasqualoni era in Syracuse.

Fast forward to 2009: The Orange have not been to a bowl game since Coach P. was terminated and his successor Greg Robinson has also been run out of town after winning a total of ten games in his four years.  

Now midway through the 2009 season, rookie head coach Doug Marrone has the Orange in a position they haven’t been in since 2006—mathematically alive for bowl eligibility seven games deep into the season.

With a record of 3-4, the Orange still have an outside shot at reaching a bowl game, which would signal a huge step forward for this program. However, with five games remaining, Syracuse will have to step their game up because they need three more wins and none of them are going to come easy.

Here’s a look at look at Syracuse’s remaining schedule and their chances of winning each.

Oct. 31 : Cincinnati

This might be the toughest game left on the schedule, but the timing of it may work in Syracuse’s favor.

For one thing, Cincinnati’s Heisman caliber quarterback Tony Pike is still recovering from a wrist injury and is unlikely to make the start.  The bad news is that backup Zach Collaros has been brilliant filling in for Pike the last two weeks and presents all kinds of matchup problems with his ability to scramble.

Given that the Orange are sixth in the nation in rushing defense, but 115th in pass defense Syracuse is probably better off facing the duel-threat Collaros rather than one of the best pocket passers in the country in Tony Pike.

Regardless of who they face though, the odds of Syracuse pulling an upset over the No. 8 Bearcats are pretty slim. They’ll need to bring their A-game just to keep the score respectable.

Odds of victory: 15%

Nov. 7 : at Pittsburgh

It doesn’t get a whole lot easier the following week as the Orange travel to Pittsburgh. The No. 15 Panthers are 7-1 and 4-0 in the Big East so far, and they’ll be coming off a bye week before this game.

The good news for Syracuse is that the next three teams Pittsburgh will face after Syracuse are No. 23 Notre Dame, their rivals No. 21 West Virginia and a possible battle to determine the Big East champion with No. 8 Cincinnati to conclude the year.

Sounds like a trap game to me.

The Orange players may also be eager to make up for the game that got away from them last season when they took a 24-16 lead into the 4th quarter against the Panthers but allowed Pitt to score the final 18 points of the game and win 34-24.

Either way, the Orange are likely to be heavy underdogs in this one. It might be closer than most expect, but asking for a win here is probably another tall order.

Odds of victory: 25%

Nov. 14: at Louisville

If there’s a program in the Big East that’s been even worse than Syracuse the past couple of years it’s Louisville. The evidence is as plain as it gets, Syracuse has beaten the Cardinals each of the past two seasons.

This year, things aren't looking any better for the 'Ville. 

The Cardinals currently stand at 2-5 and 0-3 in the Big East with their lone victories coming over Indiana State and Southern Miss. In the three conference games they’ve played, Louisville has been outscored 114-45.

If there’s a game left that Orange fans can look towards as a probable win, it’s this one.

Odds of victory: 75%

Nov. 21: Rutgers

If there was an award for the most disappointing team in the Big East, it would almost certainly go to Rutgers.

The Knights were a trendy pick to win the league this season, but thus far they’ve been a colossal disappointment. Right now they have possibly the most deceptive good record in all of college football at 5-2, with their wins coming over two FCS opponents Howard and Texas Southern, Florida International, a horrible Maryland team and Army.

The Knights were handled by the only two quality opponents that they’ve been forced to play by league rules, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Rutgers starts freshman Tom Savage at quarterback, who looks like he could someday be very good. Up until this point though, the Rutgers offense hasn’t been impressive at all with a ranking of 82nd in the country in total offense despite playing a schedule containing more cupcakes than your average bakery.

This is one that the Orange should win thanks largely to their improved defense.

Odds of victory: 60%

Nov. 28:  at Connecticut

This is it.

If things shake out the way they probably should in the four weeks preceding this matchup, Syracuse will head into their last game of the season playing for their sixth win and bowl eligibility. The only thing that will be standing in the way is the currently 4-3 Huskies.

Unfortunately for Syracuse though, Connecticut has not been friendly to them in recent years. In their last two trips to Storrs the Orange were outscored a whopping 56-14 by Randy Edsall’s team.

And this year it might be tougher than ever to leave Connecticut with a win.

While UConn’s calling card has always been its dominant running game, even their passing offense looks to be coming around. Last weekend against West Virginia, quarterback Cody Endres threw for 378 yards and a couple of touchdowns in a close loss.

Syracuse will likely do what they usually do, attempt to totally take away UConn’s running game and dare them to pass the ball.

If UConn has a passing day like they did against the Mountaineers the game won’t even be close. However, if they struggle passing the ball Syracuse should have a great chance to win this one.

Odds of victory: 40%

When everything is all said and done, it’s my feeling that the Orange will fall just short of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record. Even without a bowl appearance though, a five win season will be a huge step forward for the Syracuse program.

Things are heading in the right direction for this team, but it’s a work in progress. Doug Marrone seems like the man for the job so Syracuse fans should be able to look forward to seeing their team competing for bowl games again very soon.