A look at this week’s conference standings across the country shows 63 bowl eligible teams (not including record-eligible USC and Miami, the former previously banned by the NCAA, and the latter by itself earlier in the week), leaving theoretically seven slots open for the 35 bowl games to be played from Dec. 17 – Jan. 9.
As we wrote last week, if the Orange (5-5) doesn’t win at least one of its last two to become eligible to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1998-99, it will be a setback from the 8-5 bowl-winning season a year ago.
Throw in the fact that bowl eligibility is no guarantee of an invitation, would that scenario come into play if a 6-6 Syracuse needs the Big East’s help in being placed outside the conference’s contractually-obligated bowl partnerships with Notre Dame (the Champs Sports Bowl’s once-in- four-years selection at 8-3 with a game at Stanford to play), Rutgers, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Louisville already seemingly accounting for 5 of the 6 league’s bowl tie-ins?
And, let’s face it, with 17 other teams also having a shot at a .500 or above record with six wins, including three other Big East teams, two of which already defeated the ‘Cuse and the other team being next week’s road final game opponent Pitt, SU has its work cut out for itself starting with the aforementioned Bearcats (7-3) in the Dome Saturday with a noon kickoff.
As an indication of just how important he feels his team needs to step up its play coming off a disappointing three-game losing streak and an off week, head coach Doug Marrone had his starting offense and defense face off in practice earlier in the week to better replicate the speed, angles, and quick decision-making needed in live action.
“We had a false sense of security of how we were playing because our (practice) effort was high,” Marrone said at his Monday press conference. “But we haven’t been able to execute at the level that we needed to, to win football games. If anything as those three games (defeats) have gone on, we have progressively gotten worse in those (in-game) situations.”
Cincinnati’s second-year coach Butch Jones isn’t feeling sympathetic for his Orange counterpart. Jones lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros, a frontrunner for conference offensive player of the year, two weeks ago with a foot injury, and his expected replacement Saturday, sophomore Benton “Munchie” Legaux, has been largely ineffective (42% passing, two turnovers) in two games, including last week’s 20-3 loss at Rutgers.
“I think everyone around Munchie has to step up,” Jones said at his weekly media gathering about his team’s offense in support of Legaux heading into the Dome. “Zach’s (Collaros) out. We can’t get him back. We’re going to have Munchie ready to go, and I think you’ll see a much improved offensive performance than you saw last week.”
For the Orange, it’s bowl game or bust and the last go-round in the Dome this season. With the school offering a myriad of ticket specials making it an affordable option over a holiday weekend in an effort to boost the crowd, Marrone knows what’s on the line.
“It’s very important (to go to a bowl game). It’s very important to get the extra practices, to keep going,” he said a few days before his 36th game (17-18) as the boss. “There are a lot of accomplishments in that, as far as what we’ve done as a program. And it’s very important to have a winning record. There’s a lot on the line for us, these next two games, starting with Cincinnati.”