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Midseason review: Syracuse

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

When is a 2-4 record considered progress?

When you're Syracuse and you've suffered through hopeless losing seasons for four years prior.

The Orange might not have the record to show for it, but they're vastly more competitive in 2009. They began the season with a wrenching overtime loss to Minnesota, represented themselves well at Penn State, then beat Northwestern on a last-second field goal. First-year coach Doug Marrone has already restored excitement and entertainment in upstate New York.

The Greg Paulus experiment at quarterback started off as a smashing success, with the former Duke point guard growing more comfortable and efficient in his first four games.

The last two games, however, haven't been as encouraging. Paulus struggled with turnovers against South Florida and West Virginia as the Orange were blown out at home in their first two Big East games. An already thin roster has been hit by injuries.

If Syracuse and Paulus rebound in the second half, a bowl game is still possible. That very possibility shows progress is being made.

Offensive MVP: Mike Williams. The receiver didn't even play football in 2008 as he sat out with academic problems and attended a community college. He has been better than ever in 2009. Williams is among the top receivers nationally with 45 catches for 712 yards and six touchdowns. That he's done it without another big-time receiving threat to distract coverage makes it all the more impressive.

Defensive MVP: Derrell Smith. Smith has moved all over the field during his career but has found a home at middle linebacker. He leads the team with 55 tackles, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.