On December 29th, Doug Marrone will look to produce his 25th victory as head coach of the Syracuse Orange.
Despite the radical change to the program’s culture since Marrone took the helm in 2009, there have certainly been doubts cast about the future of the team under his leadership. Many of which formed after Syracuse rode a five-game losing streak on a return trip to the lonely world of postseason exclusion.
One year later, Marrone has his program on the precipice of a major breakthrough and has tightened his grip on what he openly declared to be his "dream job."
"He had the chops for it," commented CNY sports analyst Brent Axe. "Sometimes you doubt the little things like play calling, or why he was excusing players from the program left and right, but I always felt he was right for the job."
Should he and his team emerge from Yankee Stadium successful, Marrone will have acquired 15 more wins in a four-year span than his predecessor, Greg Robinson, tallied throughout the entirety of his tenure as head coach (also a four-year span).
Under Marrone’s watch, senior Ryan Nassib has thrown for 3,619 yards in 2012 (school record) and 8,638 total yards in his three years as a starter.
Nassib has ridden these stats, a 470-yard performance against Northwestern, and experience in a pro-style offense to the top of many analysts’ draft boards.
Thanks to a weaker than usual QB rookie class, the Orange may produce a first round QB selection only four years after fielding the likes of Andrew Robinson and Cameron Dantley.
But it isn’t the production of current Orange players alone that can give CNY a reason to be optimistic about the future and the upcoming move to the ACC.
Marrone’s presence in the recruiting game has reintroduced SU to the cream of the Northeast’s crop.
"Robinson just torched a lot of the (recruiting) relationships that were in the Northeast." said Axe.
On the heels of Rutgers’s breakout campaign in 2006, SU found itself evaporating from the short list of their pipeline’s top talent. The fact that the Scarlet Knight’s star RB, current Raven Ray Rice, spurned a verbal commitment to Syracuse to avoid playing for Robinson says all that is needed about the depths that the program would sink to.
Marrone inherited a 3-9 program as opposed to Robinson’s .500 predecessor and in only four years has garnered a bowl victory and a share of the 2012 Big East Title.
Several of Syracuse’s current top contributors were not only recruited by Marrone, but also hail from key Northeast states. Junior Siriki Diabate opted to head north from the Bronx, as has New Jersey’s Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis.
Ashton Broyld, who has been used sparingly as a change of pace RB thus far in his true freshman season, hails from nearby Rochester and is expected to be one of Marrone’s marquee acquisitions before his time in navy and orange comes to a close.
Senior OG Zack Chibane praised Marrone during a brief interview this week.
"His energy and love for the University really helps us go out there on Saturdays and play our butts off." Said the Paramus, NJ native.
Chibane continued, "His new attitude and style of coaching, especially this year is awesome."
That new attitude may be the catalyst that has helped the Orange elevate themselves from rebuilding underdog with potential to legitimate top 25 contender.
Last season’s frustrating losing streak came on the heels of what appeared to be a statement win over 15th ranked West Virginia.
With bowl eligibility and perhaps even an open door to the lower tier of ranked teams, SU was unable to string together a consecutive victory. Instead, Marrone's squad produced a five-game skid.
Even under Greg Robinson who would only total 10 victories in four years, Syracuse had been able to surprise the occasional heavy favorite. In the final two years of his tenure, the Orange snuck up on Louisville twice and Notre Dame once.
But it had been the lack of consistency that kept Syracuse from establishing itself as credible.
As mentioned by Axe earlier, there were times when it appeared that Marrone was holding the team’s top talent back unnecessarily. After inheriting the best of Robinson’s infamous tenure, the initial years of the Marrone era saw a Coughlin-eqsue approach being brought to the table.
Mike Williams left the program in 2009 in order to avoid pending disciplinary action and went on to become an immediate contributor as an NFL rookie the following season.
Safety Phillip Thomas also departed from the program in 2011 in order to sidestep a suspension. Thomas spent time on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad this fall.
But the stiff disciplinary measures did not break the spirit of the Orange roster. Rather, they helped to strengthen the core of the team.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Robinson’s coaching style but at the time, Syracuse needed a coach that instilled a high level of structure, discipline, and accountability to all activities on and off the field." said Mikhail Marinovich.
Marinovich finished his collegiate career as the starting DE opposite New England rookie Chandler Jones in 2011.
"The little things soon became the big things to create a culture of doing things the right way."
In 2012 the Orange overcame early sputters to earn yet another upset win over Louisville (this time ranked 9th) and put themselves only one win away from a postseason berth.
This time, four years into the new regime, the Orange pushed onward and took down a favored Missouri the very next week.
After staying the course against Temple, a Syracuse win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl would allow them to finish this season with an impressive four game win streak.
Regardless of the outcome, Syracuse will exit the Pinstripe Bowl with a projected early round pick at QB and several other NFL prospects.
A second victory in three years under the lights of Yankee Stadium, against both a heated rival and a formidable foe, will be yet another reinforcement in the repaired Northeast pipeline.
"The Pinstripe Bowl is perfect (for recruiting)," commented Axe. "You have to go there every time you can go there."
Despite Rutgers’s new look, share of the conference title, and last minute departure from the sinking Big East, the Orange should be able to keep pace with what is now the biggest "crosstown" threat.
Both teams will need to contend with a step-up in conference opponents so both may suffer a blow to the win column in ’13. Marrone’s recruitment skill will certainly be both tested and needed. But the push forward has not slowed for the Orange.
Marrone has already secured Staten Island’s Augustus Edwards to learn behind a returning Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley.
Austin Wilson of PA will be in the running to replace Nassib after graduating high school this spring.
Notable names from outside the home market include Texas’s Zach Allen and Tyler Provo of Florida.
Future recruits will have SU’s NFL products from the last five years to use as a reference point as well.
Delone Carter, Chandler Jones, Art Jones, Andrew Tiller, Mike Williams, Curtis Brinkley, Jameel McClain, and Doug Hogue lead the list of NFL products that spent time with the Orange during Marrone’s time at the helm.
With the leap to the ACC looming in the near future, Doug Marrone has put Syracuse in position to complete it’s long comeback from irrelevance with another statement win over the Mountaineers in the heart of its target audience.