SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse has lost six straight games, dating to last October, including a one-point setback in the season opener a week ago. Now comes a real chance at redemption — facing No. 2 Southern California.
"We're definitely motivated," Syracuse linebacker Dan Vaughan said. "We're looking to do well."
Syracuse lost 42-41 to Northwestern last Saturday after a stirring 28-point rally gave the Orange a 41-35 lead with under 3 minutes to play, but the Wildcats rallied to score the decisive touchdown in the final minute to extend that losing streak.
"Any time you get close like that in a game, it's disappointing," Vaughan said. "That game's not going to affect us. It's a nonconference game. We just need to hit our stride once conference comes ... and run the table."
Behind five touchdown passes from Matt Barkley, the Trojans beat the Orange 38-17 a year ago in Los Angeles. Just having played in that setting against such a storied program gives this year's Syracuse team a good dose of confidence.
"There is a little less intimidation in the fact that they are USC," said Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who leads the nation in completions (45), passing yards (482) and total offense (512 yards) after his stellar performance last week against the Wildcats. "There's no doubt about that. Playing in their Coliseum was definitely a little intimidating, but at the end of the day we are playing football. At any given day, the team can be beat regardless of who they are and how intimidating they can be."
Barkley kicked off his Heisman Trophy campaign with 372 yards passing and four touchdowns last week in a 49-10 win over Hawaii. Robert Woods caught six passes for 42 yards and two TDs, and Hayes Pullard returned an interception 27 yards for a score for USC, which outgained Hawaii 481-264.
"We understand the challenge ahead of us," Nassib said. "We're doing a good job of motivating ourselves. I feel like if we can keep it close, play them tough all game long and not let the game get away from us, I think we've got a good shot."
The metropolitan New York City area is a prime recruiting target for Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, who grew up in the Bronx, and Saturday's game will be a showcase for prospective recruits, even as it infuriates many of the hometown faithful upstate. The game will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets.
"A lot of people are available to come to the game," Marrone said. "As far as some of our fans, we understand some of the challenges that they have. We hope that they can look forward to a good weekend, maybe spending extra time down there and going to New York City. Our number-one alumni base is in the tri-city area. I think they have the challenges like a lot of the players' families and friends. Four hours is a tough trip."
Syracuse was poised to pull off a remarkable victory against Northwestern after falling behind 35-13 midway through the third quarter. Nassib had Barkley-like numbers with four straight TD passes to give the Orange an improbable lead, but a key penalty on third down in the final minute gave the Wildcats the ball inside the Syracuse 10, and they capitalized.
"We had a talk as a team. We're ready to take on this challenge," said freshman Ashton Broyld, a triple threat in high school who played sparingly in his college debut last week, catching four short passes. "Last week we had a few mistakes, and it slipped away. We just want to come hard and smack them in the mouth before they smack us."
Marrone said senior wideout Alec Lemon, who led the team in receiving last year, remained day-to-day as he recovers from a lower body injury, and standout left tackle Justin Pugh will miss his second straight game as he rehabs from shoulder surgery. Marrone said tight end David Stevens would play, giving the Orange another target for Nassib.
Marrone was a member of the 1984 Syracuse team that upset No. 1 Nebraska 17-9 in the Carrier Dome, the only time in school history the Orange have beaten the top-ranked team in the nation. USC was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll but was supplanted by Alabama this week despite its 39-point win over Hawaii.
There's no doubt about what a win would accomplish for a program that's been down and out for a decade.
"It would mean a great start to something even greater," Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill said. "We have been working on getting this program back on the top, and that would be a very, very great way to start."