Syracuse and Northwestern last faced each other in 2009, with Doug Marrone getting his first victory as head coach of the Orange in a 37-34 thriller.
A lot has happened since then, as SU heads into year No. 4 of the Marrone era, including the Orange’s first bowl victory in 10 years and a planned departure to the ACC. But there is still plenty of football left to be played as a member of the Big East.
As Saturday’s game approaches, there are plenty of questions to ask. Will Syracuse recapture its form from 2010, and take its first step toward its second bowl game in three years? Or, will last year’s disappointing finish continue to linger?
Here are three other questions to ask on Saturday.
1. CAN SYRACUSE STOP COLTER?
The defense’s No. 1 task will be to limit Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter’s effectiveness. As a true sophomore in 2011, Colter was just 34 receiving yards shy of finishing the season with 500 rushing, passing and receiving yards.
Now, Colter begins the season as NU’s starting quarterback, and is the team’s leading returning passer, rusher and receiver.
Can Syracuse slow him down?
One the one hand, in 2011 against USF’s dual-threat quarterback, BJ Daniels, the defense surrendered 254 yards through the air and 117 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The Orange never had a chance in that game, losing 37-17.
On the other hand, the Orange contained West Virginia’s Geno Smith. Although Smith threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns, he also completed a season-low 58.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice. The Orange also never allowed him to escape the pocket and ended up winning, 49-23.
It will also afford the Orange a chance to see what its revamped defensive line can do with the losses of Mikhail Marinovich and Chandler Jones.
2. HOW MUCH RUST WILL MARCUS SALES HAVE?
We all know the storyline by now. The last time Marcus Sales was on the field, he hauled in five catches for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Now, after a full year away from the field, Sales is back, giving the Orange the legitimate deep threat they were missing in 2011. At least, that’s the idea.
Reports out of preseason camp are that Sales had a solid, though not spectacular, camp. But then again, Sales has always been known more for his game performance as opposed to practice.
If he can recapture some of the flash he showed during the Pinstripe Bowl and the last half of the 2010 season, it will be a huge help to an offense that sputtered during its losing streak last year.
When the Orange see Colter on the field on Saturday, perhaps they will be looking into the future, because Ashton Broyld has the potential to be that kind of dual-threat.
SU saw that in the spring game, when the Rochester native finished with two catches for 50 yards, including a dynamic 44-yard reception from the backfield. Though he didn’t lineup under center, SU ran a trick play where Broyld found backup quarterback Charlie Loeb for a 14-yard strike.
Broyld won’t be usurping Nassib this season, and isn’t even listed on the depth chart as a quarterback. Instead, he’s the No. 3 running back. But Broyld may be used in the Wildcat formation and will also see some time as a receiver.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said that he’d try to find ways to use his dynamic freshman. Still, it remains to be see how much time that will be.