In second season, Marrone has Syracuse near a bowl

Syracuse suddenly is playing for more than its first bowl since

2004.

With Pittsburgh’s loss to Connecticut on Thursday night, Doug

Marrone and his Orange (6-3, 3-2 Big East) are a loss behind the

Panthers in the race for the conference title heading into

Saturday’s game at Rutgers (4-4, 1-2).

Not bad for a team picked to finish next to last in the

preseason conference poll.

However, the conference has been very competitive and things can

change quickly. Rutgers, after all, looked like it was on the road

to a sixth straight bowl berth a couple of weeks ago after a win

over Army. But it has dropped consecutive games to Pittsburgh and

South Florida and now faces the prospect of needing to win two of

its final four games to become eligible.

Syracuse still needs to win a game to become eligible since two

of its wins in Marrone’s second season were vs. FCS opponents. The

Orange missed a chance to do so last week, dropping a 28-20

decision at home to Louisville.

”It is on everyone’s mind, but I don’t think there’s as much

talk as there was last week,” Syracuse defensive tackle Andrew

Lewis said. ”I don’t want to say we took our eyes off the prize,

or that we forgot what was important, but, really, we just want to

win. If we handle a win this week, a win next week and the week

after, then a bowl game is inevitable. That’s just the mindset that

this team has right now.”

Syracuse’s schedule after Rutgers is not easy, with Connecticut

and Boston College at home.

”There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to get that

seventh win,” Orange linebacker Doug Hogue said. ”We’ve just got

to make sure we play harder. We just didn’t get the job done

(against Louisville).”

Syracuse has won all three conference road games this season,

beating South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati. The Orange’s

lone road loss was a bad one – 41-20 at Washington – in the second

game. But they also won at Akron in the season opener.

Rutgers has struggled at home, losing to North Carolina and

Tulane. The Scarlet Knights even sputtered against Norfolk State

for a half in the season opener.

While the Scarlet Knights have beaten Syracuse three straight

times at home, the Orange snapped a four-game losing streak against

Rutgers last season with a 31-13 win at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse sacked then-starter Tom Savage nine times, tying a

school record. That does not bode well for current starter Chas

Dodd, who replaced an injured Savage four games ago. Rutgers has

allowed 35 sacks this season and is ranked last in the NCAA for

sacks allowed per game.

After watching cutups of last year’s game, Dodd knows Syracuse

is going to blitz … a lot.

”It’s just a matter of preparing mentally for it,” said Dodd,

who has spoken with Savage about dealing with the pressure, ”and

knowing what you have to do and what to look for.”

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said the Orange blitz as much as 60

percent.

”They believe it. They do it,” Schiano said. ”They don’t care

what you are in. Certainly, we experienced it last year, not very

successfully for our part. We are trying to prepare for that.”

Syracuse’s last bowl was the Champs Sports, where they lost

51-14 to Georgia Tech on Dec. 21, 2004. Coach Paul Pasqualoni was

fired after the season and replaced by Greg Robinson, who posted a

10-37 record in four seasons.

But Marrone is on the verge of making all those painful memories

disappear.

”It’s like night and day, night and day,” Lewis said. ”I

can’t really put my finger on just one thing, but the biggest thing

that stands out is the collectiveness of the team. We all come

together as one. That’s different from years past.”

AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse contributed to this

report.