Orange embracing challenging slate

As an offensive lineman at Syracuse two decades ago, Doug Marrone played games at Nebraska, Florida and Penn State, among other hostile environments. As the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator in his previous post, Marrone saw Jermon Bushrod rise from an intimidated rookie to a Pro Bowl left tackle after initial poundings from top NFL pass-rushers.

So yes, there is a method to the madness behind the Orange's daunting 2012 nonconference schedule.

"Well I think we're gonna find out and know exactly who we are," Marrone, the fourth-year Syracuse coach, told ESPN.com. "We're playing some quality opponents, very, very good football teams. … We've always done that, and that's helped us in becoming a better football team, in my opinion. I know it made myself a better player, playing against that type of competition, so we're excited about playing those teams."

Those teams include AP No. 1 USC, which the Orange will play Sept. 8 in East Rutherford, N.J. That contest comes after the season-opener against Northwestern. Week 4 brings a night trip to Minnesota and, following a Big East slate that features just three home games, the Orange travel to new SEC member Missouri.

Four of Syracuse's final five games are on the road, the lone Carrier Dome visit coming from No. 25 Louisville, the Big East's preseason No. 1 team.

"I’m excited about it," guard Zack Chibane said. "I think any time you get to go and showcase yourself on a national level and play against nationally-ranked teams, it’s a big opportunity. They always say you have to beat the best to be the best. It’s a cliché but it’s true. If we win some tough games, it’s only going to raise our exposure and help us play better in conference games. I hear people talking about it, starting off with Northwestern, then USC in my home state of New Jersey. Everybody is excited about it."

The schedule originally looked even more daunting, before TCU's and West Virginia's defections from the Big East led to Missouri and Temple ending up on the list of opponents instead.

Syracuse started 5-2 last season before dropping its last five games, falling short of a second consecutive bowl trip under Marrone. He is hoping that more depth this season, particularly at the skill positions, can help the team absorb some late-season hits, even if they come against better competition.

The Orange's final preseason camp in the Big East also featured a week in Fort Drum, N.Y., where the conditions were far tougher than anything they will face in opposing stadiums this season.

Whether it will all pay dividends in the form of a winning record and bowl appearance remains to be seen, but the team is eager for the challenges.

"As a player, that’s what I come to Syracuse for," linebacker Dyshawn Davis said. "I want to play for Coach Marrone. I want to be a part of that Syracuse trend that’s building it back, and that’s why a lot of the younger guys who’ve come here and a lot of the older guys who’ve been here for a while, we know it’s time for a change. We’ve faced a lot of adversity. We just want to overcome adversity because no one said we could do it, and it’s always good to be a part of that team that shocks the world."