One team we’ve kept a close eye on this college football season as it relates to one of the ways we wanted to evaluate the state of the Orange program in year three of the Doug Marrone era, is Kansas State. The more success KSU has had in 2011 (the Wildcats are 8-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Texas), the better we felt about the state and direction of the SU program.
That’s because we thought the Wildcats were an extremely athletic team that the ‘Cuse hung on to defeat 36-34 in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, and even though the 2011 KSU team is not exactly the 2010 team, what with a new quarterback and leading rusher, almost 70 percent of the rest of the K-State roster, including a couple of key receivers and linemen, did suit up versus SU at Yankee Stadium, as the bar was set at eight wins and a bowl victory in just two years of the program’s rebuild.
And that gutty performance against a good BCS conference team came a month after a 1-3 November. The coaching staff and players rallied around their head man’s Bronx homecoming in a one-game setting.
Fast forward to this season’s 5-2 start, the zenith being the best all-around play against a quality BCS opponent since the bowl game win against West Virginia (the Wake Forest OT win doesn’t count), followed by league losses against programs in a conference full of parity that the Orange has at least as much talent with (Louisville), probably better talent (Connecticut), and probably not as good talent (South Florida), still a maddening one win shy of bowl eligibility with two left to play.
The off week provides extra preparation time for Cincinnati (7-2) in the home finale next weekend, the Bearcats travel to Rutgers Saturday minus starting quarterback Zach Collaros out for the regular season with a foot injury, before the last game at Pittsburgh (5-5), a team SU hasn’t beaten since Paul Pasqualoni’s final season in 2004.
If there’s not a victory in there somewhere after sitting one win away from bowl eligibility on Oct. 21, and in turn would culminate in a losing record and not being one of 70 teams playing in a bowl game, would obviously be a huge step backwards in trying to make program progress of consecutive bowl game appearances for first time since 1998-99.
With the unconfirmed (as of early Friday) suspension of defensive standout Phillip Thomas for perhaps the final two games, and offensive struggles reminiscent of last November’s swoon, it’s time for Marrone, his staff, and players to once again rally in a one-game setting that will go a long way towards defining the pulse of the program’s direction as it heads towards the bridge to the ACC.