The Syracuse Orange will try to do something it hasn't accomplished since 2001 Saturday when the Cincinnati Bearcats hosts SU in a Big East Conference football game at Nippert Stadium (Noon ET on SNY).
Winners of back-to-back league contests, including last week's thrilling comeback victory, 37-36, over the South Florida Bulls, the Orange (4-4, 3-1 Big East) could earn their third straight Big East win. That feat hasn't been accomplished in over a decade when Syracuse downed the Temple Owls (45-3), Virginia Tech Hokies (22-14) and West Virginia Mountaineers (24-13) in consecutive weeks.
Yet, to achieve what as seemed to be an impossible task, SU will need to shake off another accomplishment that winning teams take for granted -- winning back-to-back road games, which has been done only once by SU in 12 years.
Its host, Cincinnati (5-2, 1-1), is coming of its second straight loss. Last Friday, the Bearcats dropped a heart-breaker to the No. 10-ranked Louisville Cardinals, 34-31, in overtime. That loss followed an upset by the Toledo Rockets, who earned a 29-23 victory over Cincinnati.
Despite their recent skid the Bearcats will enter as 4 1/2-point favorites according to oddsmakers. The point spread is smaller than the seven points Cincinnati was favored by in the opening line. The over/under is set at 57 points.
Syracuse: Junior defensive lineman Jay Bromley (6'4, 290 pounds) is a game-time decision after he suffered a lower-body injury on Tuesday. Head coach Doug Marrone said Thursday if Bromley cannot play it would be "devastating" to the defense.
Sophomore running back Adonis Ameen-Moore (5'11, 239) is also doubtful for the game. Ameen-Moore has been mainly used in short-yardage situations, especially near the goal line.
Cincinnati: Sadly, the Bearcats learned this week that senior defensive end star, Walter Stewart, will need to retire from the game of football due to a defect in his spine. Before going down, Stewart had started 40-straight games for UC and was the Big East's active leader in career sacks (17.5).
What the coaches are saying
Syracuse's Doug Marrone:
"We're playing a Cincinnati team that I have a lot of respect for. They have a lot of good athletes on that team. They play very tough, physical, and they're coming off a very tough loss and we're going into their home field. This will be a big challenge for our football team."
Cincinnati's Butch Davis:
"(We're) playing a football team that I said preseason would be this season one of the best team's in the Big East Conference. A typical Doug Marrone coached football team.
"Shamarko Thomas I think is one best players in the Big Eats Conference. Offensively, the things that Ryan (Nassib) is doing and the tempo of their offense, the play-makers, the physical toughness, the different things they challenge you scheme wise its going to be a great challenge.
"They remind me of a Syracuse team that came in here a few years ago and dominated us."
Syracuse is led by senior Ryan Nassib, who's currently ranked ninth in the country in pass yards (2,487) and passing yards per game (321.6).
Last week, Nassib threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns against USF. This was the fifth 300-yard passing performance by the senior, a school record.
Cincinnati relies on the arm and legs of junior Munchie Legaux, who's one of the Big East's most dynamic players. Legaux not only leads the team in passing (227.4 ypg) but is second in rushing yards per game (42.3).
Last week, Legaux passed for 157 yards and added 32 on the ground in a 34-31 loss to Louisville.
Though, both signal caller are veterans and can make plays each are prone to turning the football over. Both quarterbacks have thrown eight interceptions this season and they usually all come in bunches.
Syracuse is known mainly for its up-tempo air attack led by Nassib, however, over the past two weeks junior running back Jerome Smith has emerged as a big offensive threat.
Smith is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing performance and after playing sparingly in the beginning of the season is now ranked sixth in the Big East in rushing yards per game (76.9).
If the Bearcats plug the run, the Orange can answer with a passing offense that features three of the top five wide receivers in the league. Senior wide out Marcus Sales paces the trio as he's second in the Big East in both receptions (5.8) and receiving yards (83.8) per game. Senior wide receiver Alec Lemon and junior Jarrod West are Nassib's other main targets.
Defensively, the Orange are led by Thomas, who has a team-high 52 tackles and two interceptions, and defensive end Brandon Sharpe, who has 5.5 sacks and 11.0 tackles for a loss. At times this unit can give up large chunks of offense, however, it has been pretty consistent throughout this season.
The biggest concern for the Orange is turnovers, as Syracuse is 4-0 when they have had fewer, or the same number of turnovers as their opponent and 0-4 when they have finished with more turnovers than their opponent.
The Bearcats will rely on a rushing attack led by running backs George Winn (101.2 ypg), Ralph David Abernathy IV and Legaux. Earlier in the week, coach Jones said Legaux should run more against SU which has a history of struggling against duel-threat quarterbacks.
If Cincinnati needs to air it out it can with wide receiver Kembrell Thompkins (21 catches, 322 yards) and Damon Julian (four touchdowns). However, if Cincy is passing a lot the results are usually not good.
According to the BearcatsBlog.com, the pass efficiency between Legaux and Nassib against FBS opponents is, well, a lot:
Defensively, Cincinnati enters with the sixth ranked defense in the Big East as its allowing 377.1 yards per game. Its biggest weakness is the its secondary which should be helped out by a steady pass rush on Saturday.
By game time there's a 100-percent chance of light rain and the temperature will be around 40-degrees according to Weather.com. The rain should stop as the game moves along. Wind should not be much of a factor.
This should be an entertaining Big East contest as both teams should put up points on each others defenses. Yet, like most football games, it will come down to the team that can make the biggest plays and hang onto the football.
I think Cincinnati, with Legaux, can do that and will earn a victory by a slim margin.
Final score: Cincinnati 28, Syracuse 24