This could be a defining game for Syracuse defensive end Mikhail Marinovich.
Sure, he gets to return home to California and play against USC, a tradition-rich program that has deep ties to the Marinovich family. But Marinovich will now be relied upon even more heavily on defense with fellow end Chandler Jones out for a second straight game. The Orange need a more consistent defensive effort to have a shot at winning. As one of the most experienced players on the unit, Marinovich is eager for that challenge Saturday night in front of his friends and family.
"I’ve made a point to talk to everybody to set the tone," Marinovich said in a phone interview. "I've talked to the young guys about what we want to do and accomplish out there. We have to start off fast. We can't just wait until the third series to get going. We're really trying to come out fast, and that is something we have worked on all week."
To lead an upset at USC would be even more special. Mikhail is too young to remember seeing his older brother, Todd, start at quarterback for the Trojans. In fact, the last time USC and Syracuse played, Todd Marinovich was the starting Trojans quarterback, throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-16 win in 1990. Mikhail would have been 2.
Mikhail might not have memories of that game, but he certainly is not too young to remember the countless stories he heard about USC from Todd and his father, Marv. The stories were enough to send Mikhail to what he calls the "rebel side" -- UCLA. Mikhail began rooting for the Bruins to antagonize his brother and father.
In fact, he was on the sideline as a UCLA recruit in 2006 -- when the Bruins upset No. 2 USC 13-9, knocking the Trojans out of the BCS title-game hunt. He was on the phone with his brother the entire game, poking at him. "It was quite a scene in the locker room afterward," Mikhail said.
He ended up at Syracuse because he wanted to get away from the West Coast, but he still misses California. His brother, father, mother, family and friends will be at the game -- decked out in Orange but sitting in the USC alumni section. Had they thought about taking refuge in the Syracuse family section?
"That's not the Marinovich style," Mikhail says.
Certainly that style is a unique one. Mikhail has his own approach to life, one that mixes the eclectic and the fun loving. He is growing out a handlebar mustache this season, joined Twitter with the handle @MustacheOVICH54 and told all his followers that his moustache was leaving him for California because the weather in Syracuse was not so great. For those interested in an update, the moustache is doing "superb," Marinovich says.
His play has been solid this season as well. Marinovich has started 27 straight games -- more than any other player on defense -- and has never missed a start under coach Doug Marrone. "He's been outstanding," Marrone said, adding that Marinovich most likely would serve as a game captain.
"I can’t ask for anything more my senior year [than] to be able to go play there," Marinovich said. "My dad left his sweat and blood on that field. My brother left his sweat and blood on that field."
What would make the day perfect?
"A lot of people talk about how they’d want to get six sacks, but that’s not what I’m trying to do," Marinovich said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can on the field to help us win. By any means necessary."