We've reached the sixth installment of our best case/worst case looks at each Big East team (with a healthy dose of amusement for each). Time for Syracuse's case study.
Sufferin' Syracuse fans, rejoice.
After four long years of the Greg Robinson Error and a 4-8 record last year under Doug Marrone, your pain is about to ease. The Orange showed signs of turning the corner late last season -- including a blowout win over Rutgers -- and this will be the season they return to the postseason. The defense, led by linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue and an experienced secondary, becomes even more fierce as Chandler Jones steps out of his older brother's shadow. The offense displays the innovation it had late last year with Marrone in charge, confusing defenses with multiple schemes and then pounding them with Delone Carter.
And the schedule, for once, is set up for success. Syracuse opens the year with an easy win at Akron, then goes to Washington in Week 2 and deflate the Jake Locker myth. Genuine excitement builds even for bad home games against Maine and Colgate, both of which the Orange crush for a 4-0 start.
From there comes a bit of a bummer. The opening conference stretch -- at USF, Pitt, at West Virginia, at Cincinnati -- offers few chances for victory, and an 0-4 mark not only evens the record but has fans saying it's the same old Syracuse.
Only that's not true this time. Marrone delivers a rousing pregame speech before the Louisville game, and the players respond by thrashing the Cardinals at home. The next week, Syracuse goes to Rutgers and houses the Scarlet Knights for a second straight year. That's followed by an upset of UConn and Orange alumnus Randy Edsall, clinching bowl eligibility.
The Carrier Dome is sold out and louder than it's been in years for the season finale against Boston College. Carter runs for 200 yards, Ryan Nassib passes for 300 and the Orange win by the appropriate score of 44-0. An 8-4 record results in a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl. The Empire State Building is lighted orange for the occasion. Top New York and New Jersey recruits fill the Yankee Stadium stands. The Big Ten opens its arms to the Orange following the season.
This is going to hurt a little.
Marrone has the program on the right track, but Syracuse still has plenty of issues. The numbers and overall talent level remain down, and preseason injuries have thinned the ranks. The Orange will be counting on a lot of young players to contribute right away. There's a first-time starting quarterback, no proven big-time receivers and some questions along the defensive front. Plus, nobody on the team is used to winning.
The season begins in disastrous fashion, as Akron springs a MAC trap at home in the opener. That makes for a long cross-country flight to Seattle the next week, and Locker goes wild in a blowout Washington win.
Depressed fans stay at home for the first two home games against FCS teams, which Syracuse wins in unimpressive fashion. Then comes that brutal four-game opening conference stretch for which all the Orange have to show are bumps, bruises and more injured players. They're down to an NFL-sized roster by the time Louisville comes to town, but they manage to rally for a 6-3 victory that only a mother could love.
But that's the last win in the season, as the players get into a huge snowball fight once the weather turns, leading to multiple suspensions. Rutgers exacts heavy revenge for last year and Edsall leads a romp on his way to the Big East title. Boston College puts the final, depressing punctuation on the season with a laughably easy win before planting the ACC flag at midfield of the Carrier Dome.
A 3-9 season has fans wondering whether Marrone can ever get the program back. Rutgers, UConn and Pitt bolt for the Big Ten, leaving Syracuse as a lone wolf in the Northeast. Jim Boeheim retires.