Jan 06, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Syracuse football fans, don’t deny it – admit that you were despairing in the early minutes of that Pinstripe Bowl.
Yes, it was nice to be in any bowl game after a six-year exile. But the Orange was merely 7-5, and playing in the Bronx in the middle of winter.
Snow from that gigantic Christmas storm piled up on the sidelines. Kansas State was the opponent, not a program that causes the average college football fan to stir. And this was the new antiseptic billion-dollar version of Yankee Stadium, not the old House That Ruth Built with all the requisite ghosts.
So when the Wildcats’ Daniel Thomas took off on a 52-yard touchdown run 28 seconds into the contest, SU partisans (even this one) were lining up the concession speeches – nice season and all that, but not ready for bigger things.
Then they played the other 59 minutes and 32 seconds. And in one scintillating performance, a program’s entire trajectory might have altered, ever higher.
There was Delone Carter tromping for nearly 200 yards on the ground. There was Marcus Sales, the hometown product from CBA, having the game of his life with 172 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
And the defense, gashed much of the night, made the two-point stop at the end – admittedly aided by a horrendous “excess celebration” penalty on K-State. Adrian Hilburn saluted the crowd, that’s all – nothing more, no taunting of the opponent, nothing close to unsportsmanlike.
So it ended Syracuse 36, Kansas State 34, one of the best games of the bloated bowl season. SU has every right to feel proud – and wishes that the 2011 season could start tomorrow, for good reason.
It wasn’t just that the Orange prevailed. It was the way they won, with high emotion, big plays on offense, lots of points. It was almost like Don McPherson, Marvin Graves or Donovan McNabb had come back to remind the nation was SU was like in its 1980s-90s prime.
Doug Marrone’s plan is right on track. Many questioned the hire back in the winter of 2009, when guys like Turner Gill were available. Why give the daunting Orange rebuilding project to a guy with zero head coaching experience?
Except that Marrone, a proud SU alum, wanted to be here and relished the idea of restoring the school’s good football name. And he would do it the right way, whether players wanted to go along or not. That includes the classroom, where the team is tops among Big East schools in academic performance.
As a result, you saw a whole lot of attrition in these first two seasons. All kinds of guys, for all kinds of reasons, got cast aside or walked out, not to return. But as Bear Bryant did with his famed “Junction Boys” at Texas A&M in the 1950s, those that stayed would win.
First, the defense got rebuilt. Thus, SU could compete every week and steal a few wins when no one was looking (see West Virginia, Rutgers). The offense has proven a longer haul, but you saw a whole lot of parts clicking at Yankee Stadium.
Now, Marrone has poised SU for a real chance at winning the Big East in 2011. Enough returns, like Sales and Ryan Nassib, to provide continuity, and the confidence has grown tenfold. Better yet, Big East powers like West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Connecticut are undergoing serious coaching issues. And TCU doesn’t’ show up until 2012.
Just as importantly, Marrone is finding success in getting the state’s top talent to stay at home. The prime example is Asthon Broyld, the electrifying 6-3, 225-pound quarterback who, with his strong arm and stronger body, carried Rush-Henrietta to the state Class AA championship this fall. He threw for 1,961 yards, rushed for 1,540 more, and had 24 passing and rushing TDs in his spectacular senior campaign.
At first, Broyld was decidedly looking elsewhere, to Louisville and Akron, among other suitors. But the personality of Marrone won him over – and the winning didn’t hurt, either.
If he can get the grades, Broyld could prove himself to be the big-name QB the Orange has sorely lacked since McNabb. It’s one of the last major obstacles standing between SU and a full-fledged shot at national recognition and respect.
No doubt, Syracuse’s football players, coaches and fans had a reason to smile and cheer when the clock hit 0:00 at Yankee Stadium on the next-to-last day of 2010. What’s more exciting is the idea that this modest celebration might turn into something greater – and that, for once, such grandeur is not that far away.