Last year’s bowl a nightmare for Syracuse

By Darrell Laurant  |   Wednesday, December 14, 2005  |  Comments( 0 )

Syracuse Orange
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Bowl games, a lot of coaches say, are nothing more than a nice trip for the players and a party for the alumni.

Paul Pasqualoni might disagree.

Last year at this time, the 14-year veteran Syracuse University coach had received a vote of confidence, albeit a shaky one, after the Orange became bowl eligible with a 43-17 season-ending victory over Boston College. That led to a bid to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando against Georgia Tech and a lot of reservations for Walt Disney World.

That, in turn, led to disaster. Final score: Georgia Tech 51, Syracuse 14. After that debacle, the school reversed itself and fired Pasqualoni, hiring Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to replace him.

Not so long ago, Syracuse played with a certain swagger, especially in the Carrier Dome. This was, after all, the program that in recent years has produced NFL All-Stars like Donovan McNabb, Dwight Freeney, Marvin Harrison, Keith Bulluck and Donovan Darius. As recently as 1999, the then-Orangemen were in a BCS bowl. Now, they've fallen -- and in 2005, they couldn't get up.

It seemed obvious at the beginning of this season that the blowout loss to Tech had badly damaged the confidence of QB Perry Patterson and the rest of the Syracuse offense. The Orange defense kept them in the first game, a 15-7 loss to West Virginia, and the offense emerged from its coma long enough to beat hapless Buffalo, 31-0. In the third game, in the Dome, SU took highly regarded Virginia to the wire before losing, 28-24. And then everything unraveled. The losses got progressively worse, and the Orange finished 1-10.

One problem with a resounding bowl loss is that high school athletes have a limited perspective. In the case of Syracuse, they didn't care about Jim Brown and Ernie Davis, or even Donovan McNabb. All they knew was that Syracuse was a team they had just seen embarrassed on ESPN -- and when Pasqualoni got the axe, a number of potential recruits bailed on the Orange.

Most galling is how many local athletes have slipped through the Syracuse recruiting net. Greg Paulus of Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, the 2004 Gator Aid National Player of the Year as a quarterback, turned down an offer to play football and basketball at Syracuse and is now a point guard for Duke. Mike Hart, from nearby Onondaga Central, has blossomed into a productive running back at Michigan. Defensive lineman Will Smith from Utica was an All-American at Ohio State. Tom Zermaitis of Rochester is a star DB for Penn State.

There are signs that Robinson has begun to stop the bleeding -- the next recruiting class for Syracuse is shaping up to be one of the best in years. In the process, the first-year coach has had to overcome not only the Georgia Tech embarrassment, but the decimation of the Big East as a football conference. Blue chip players want to compete against Miami and Southern Cal, not Connecticut and Rutgers.

Most of all, though, Syracuse's nightmare 2005 season speaks to the dangers of losing a bowl game in a big way. Walt Disney World isn't much fun when you're routed by 39 points, and the post-traumatic stress might show up the following fall.
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