Syracuse has been in this exact spot before: getting a big win over a top 25 team with bowl eligibility within reach.
When it happened last year, the Orange took down West Virginia on a Friday night. But they promptly ended the season on a five-game losing streak to end the year 5-7. So the big question for the Orange as they prepare to take on Missouri on Saturday: Will this season be any different?
After all, Syracuse goes into this weekend following a huge 45-26 win over No. 9 Louisville to get to 5-5. One win in its final two games, and the Orange go back to a bowl game. But winning two games is no simple task, especially for a team that has lost nearly all of its games this season because of self-inflicted mistakes.
"This year’s team is different, as every year’s team is different," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "For our players, we’ve been striving to make less mistakes and execute better and we were able to do that against a very good football team this weekend. How you prepared last week, what you did whatever it may be -- how do we mirror that so we can have the same type of performance?"
Well, it would help matters if this game was at home, where the Orange have fared much better this season. Hitting the road to take on an SEC opponent in a night game will be a huge challenge, considering the results away from home. Syracuse is 4-1 in games at the Carrier Dome this season. In the three games it has not turned the ball over this season, two have come at home.
"It’s the same thing we talk about -- staying focused," Marrone said. "It’s always a greater challenge when you go on the road with the environment. We’ll try to make sure the players concentrate on the game plan and do not let anything distract us."
Playing such a tough nonconference schedule has presented its share of challenges as well. Remember, Missouri was a late addition to the schedule, filling a hole after TCU bailed for the Big 12. Marrone has continually maintained he wants to challenge his players with the type of schedule they have played. There is no denying what a tough task they have faced.
Syracuse is 0-3 against its FBS nonconference opponents this year, with losses to Northwestern, Minnesota and USC. Here is where the turnover factor comes into play. Syracuse is minus-7 in turnover margin in those three games, and it was a huge factor in its loss to the Gophers. Of those three games, only Northwestern was a true home game in Syracuse.
But Syracuse has been much better at taking care of the football in the past month. The Orange have won three of their last four games -- and are plus-6 in turnover margin in those contests. In addition to taking care of the football, Syracuse has found its running game, another key in the turnaround. Jerome Smith has 100 yards rushing in each of the last four games.
While it appears the Orange have seemingly turned a corner after their 2-4 start, they have to try and keep the momentum up against Missouri, with bowl hopes on the line.
"We really haven't thought about the bowl game," center Macky MacPherson said after the win over Louisville. "We knew we had to win the next two, but it's not something we have been focusing on. What we were focused on was beating a very good Louisville team. Now we need to focus on Missouri. We are not focused on win No. 6 as much as we are about beating Missouri."