Each Friday during the summer, The Juice Online will be looking back to some of the biggest story lines in the 2012-13 Syracuse sports year. This week, we take a look back at Syracuse football’s final season in the Big East.
Syracuse’s 2012 football season will mostly be remembered for its surprising turnaround in the second half of the season.
SU stumbled to a 1-3 start, and after an ugly, mistake-laden 35-24 loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 3, it looked like Syracuse would be sitting at home for a second straight bowl season. With his team sitting at 4-5, Doug Marrone inched ever closer to the hot seat, where he had — until that point — turned in a mediocre coaching tenure.
The loss to the Bearcats was a microcosm of what the Orange had played like in the last two seasons. Syracuse fumbled deep in its own territory twice, setting up two Cincinnati touchdowns. SU had one of its field goals blocked, missed another and was penalized 12 times for 104 yards.
To avoid another disappointing season, SU needed to win two of its final three games against then-No. 9 Louisville, a tough SEC opponent in Missouri and Temple.
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Instead, the Orange won all of those games, starting with an emphatic 45-26 win over Louisville. Syracuse played a near perfect game, committing zero turnovers, while Alec Lemon torched the Cardinals secondary for nine catches for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Against Missouri, the Orange trailed by 21 points in the fourth quarter before rallying to defeat Missouri 31-27. Nassib’s 17-yard strike to Lemon with 20 seconds left put the Orange ahead, as SU shocked the Tigers in their home finale. Syracuse would finish off the season with a convincing 38-20 win over Temple in Philadelphia, the last Big East game in Syracuse football history.
With the Orange bowl eligible, the team met familiar foe West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
On a soggy and snowy day, Prince-Tyson Gulley ran all over the Mountaineer defense, finishing with 215 rushing yards and three touchdowns as SU routed West Virginia 38-14. Meanwhile, the Orange defense completely shut down Geno Smith and the high-powered Mountaineer offense, holding them to 0-10 on third-down conversions.
“The football gods brought snow,” said Jerome Smith, who had 152 rushing yards of his own. “The football gods from Syracuse brought us some snow, and it changed even West Virginia’s game. They had to run a little bit more than they were used to. We ran the ball a little bit more than we’re used to and did what we were supposed to do.”
Marrone, once the goat, was now universally praised for returning the Syracuse program to relevance. As it turned out, it was his final game (more on that in the coming weeks).
WHAT WE SAID:
Just like that, 22 seasons and 151 games of Big East football competition for the Syracuse program is finished. One final 38-20 Orange victory against Temple Friday, highlighted by an emphatic fourth quarter display on both sides of the ball, came in front of a sparse crowd (22,317) at cavernous Lincoln Financial Field on a perfect late November football afternoon, and enabled SU’s all-time conference mark to finish a game above .500 (76-75). More importantly, it served as another sign of the two directions the program is headed – north in the won/loss column, and south to the ACC. Five wins in six games to finish 7-5 and simultaneously close out the conference season 5-2 after being picked second-to-last in the preseason poll last summer, is, as head coach Doug Marrone declared afterwards, “a story better told by them (the players), rather than their coach.”
— Brad Bierman
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WHAT THEY SAID:
The Orange end its final season in the Big East with wins in six of its final seven games and yet another triumphant performance against its rivals. Though this was the final game for record-setting players like Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon, the running game certainly appears to be in great hands headed into the ACC next season. — Andrea Adelson, ESPN
And suddenly Syracuse, the same team that bumbled its way to a last-place Big East finish in 2011, rose to the top. UConn was handed a 30-point defeat. A 20-point deficit was erased on the road at South Florida. Louisville, a team ranked in the top 10 in the country, left the Carrier Dome with a double-digit loss. And a last-second comeback on the road at Missouri, a school from the mighty Southeastern Conference, illuminated a grit and dedication unseen since Paul Pasqualoni ran the show. That magic combination — a fiery Marrone with a team that refused to quit — won a share of the Big East title and carried over another month, reaching Yankee Stadium to take on a former conference rival with the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and a slew of other future pros. It oozed onto a sloppy, snowy, slushy field in the form of a smash-mouth running game that made Marrone, a former offensive lineman himself, proud. — Michael Cohen, Daily Orange
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