Syracuse seniors focused on leaving as winners

Regardless of what happens next week in the Texas Bowl against

Minnesota, Scott Shafer’s first season as head coach at Syracuse

has turned out OK.

Playing in the postseason is a nice reward, especially

considering the hand Shafer was dealt as the Orange prepared to

leave the Big East to play their first season in the Atlantic Coast

Conference. Coach Doug Marrone abruptly resigned last January,

taking most of his staff with him to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Syracuse still managed to finish .500 and earn a bid to the Texas

Bowl in Houston to face Minnesota.

”It’s a business trip, a business trip with benefits,” said

Shafer, who also had to replace record-setting quarterback Ryan

Nassib and the stability he lent to the program. ”There are so

many fronts that are conducive to take the program in a positive

step forward when you’re playing in a bowl. It’s like an extra

spring practice to some degree.”

Like every other coach in America, Shafer also is thinking about

next year, using the extra practice time to evaluate players who

didn’t see much action during the regular season. ”With us playing

on the 27th, we won’t have as many opportunities, but it’s still

opportunities,” Shafer said. ”And just the fact that people are

talking about Syracuse during December on the holidays is

advantageous to our recruiting front. The chance to be on national

TV and play two days after Christmas, all those recruits that we’ve

been working hard to try to get will get a chance to watch our

product.”

Syracuse (6-6, 4-4 ACC) began the season with losses to Penn

State (23-17) and Northwestern (48-27) and closed it with a tough

17-16 loss to Pittsburgh, compliments of a blocked extra point, and

a scintillating 34-31 victory over longtime rival Boston College. A

couple of plays here and there and the Orange are sporting a much

more impressive record as they prepare for the Golden Gophers

(8-4).

Still, Syracuse finished behind only No. 1 Florida State, who

will play Auburn for the national championship, and Orange

Bowl-bound No. 12 Clemson in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

”I thought it was an adequate season,” Shafer said. ”If we

would have won eight, I would have said it was an outstanding

season considering where we were. We lost a lot of good players and

a lot of good coaches. We really had to start all over. I knew it

was going to be a great challenge. At the end of the day, the bar

is set high. For our kids to have finished behind those two teams,

I thought it was a definite positive as we move into the second

year of the ACC.”

The extra time has been a boon for the seniors, who were

instrumental in helping the team in an important transition year

and are anxious to go out on a winning note. Syracuse has won the

Pinstripe Bowl twice in the past three years, so what would be sort

of a three-peat in their minds is the goal.

”It’s just good to have that little bit of time,” said senior

defensive tackle Jay Bromley, who had a team-leading nine sacks

among his 12.5 tackles for loss. ”(If) we get out of this season

with a 7-6 record, we’d have one losing season under my belt in

four years. It would be a real good accomplishment. I just want to

leave this university a winner just like I came here.”

As for next season, safety Durell Eskridge and tailback Jerome

Smith are expected to return, and that’s a big deal.

As a sophomore, Eskridge earned All-ACC third-team honors with

78 tackles, 52 of them solo, and four interceptions. A receiver in

high school, Eskridge also was inserted in the lineup on offense

the final two games and had a key 19-yard catch on a third-and-10

play to help set up a touchdown against Boston College. Smith leads

the team with 840 yards rushing and 12 TDs, all but one of those

scores on the ground.