For his first four years, Derrell Smith put in all the hard work that goes with being a football player with none of the rewards at the end.
"It sucked," the Syracuse senior linebacker said. "I know a couple people from back home who went to Penn State, and they'd go to bowl games. I'd watch them on TV and think, 'I wish I just had one opportunity to do that.'"
Smith and the other Orange players could rejoice after last week's 13-10 victory over Rutgers, their seventh win of the season. Syracuse is finally going bowling again for the first time since 2004 and is one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 season.
Head coach Doug Marrone set that as a goal way back in January, and his team delivered.
"He told us, 'Look at the schedule, and a find a game that you think you can't win,'" Smith said. "Every game we saw, we thought it was possible we could win. If you just believe, you can do it and be successful."
But while the Orange are thrilled to have achieved their goal, they're not googling "Beef 'O' Brady's" or dreaming of their bowl gift bags just yet. There's still important business at hand.
They host Connecticut on Saturday in their Big East finale. A win there would make Syracuse 5-2 in conference play and would be assured of at least a share of the league title if Pitt loses one more game. A BCS bid is still very much possible. Add in the regular-season finale, and the Orange could actually win -- can you believe it? -- nine games.
That's why Marrone, who is making a case for national coach of the year in just his second season, isn't squawking about achieving bowl eligibility.
"We can’t really say what we’ve accomplished when we still have games left to play," he said. "I would lie to you if I said we haven’t accomplished anything; we’ve accomplished a lot of what our goals were.
"I’ll talk about it after the season is over. Right now the only thing on my mind is Connecticut."
Smith and his teammates know that they've helped the program take a big step -- "hopefully this will help bring in some recruits and people will start to respect us more," he said. But instead of feeling satisfied with going to a bowl, they can help themselves get to an even bigger bowl by winning some more.
"The season's not over, so we can't just dwell on it," he said. "We have to look forward to the future."