For the third time in five seasons Saturday (12 p.m. ET on ESPN2), the Syracuse Orange football program will play the Northwestern Wildcats in a non-conference contest. The Big East-Big Ten Conference showdown at the Carrier Dome will open the 2012-13 season for both schools, which each are looking to contend for conference championships.
The last time the Orange and Wildcats squared off -- Sept. 19, 2009 -- SU was just three games into the era of head coach Doug Marrone and looking for a victory that would snap a two-game losing streak.
The scenario is somewhat similar this season, as Marrone enters his fourth year looking for a turnaround after ending last season with a five-game losing streak, which led to SU missing the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.
What's different from the last meeting between Syracuse and Northwestern is preseason expectations. After getting a taste of what postseason life is like in '10, the Orange want to get back and prove to doubters last year's collapse was a fluke. That wasn't the case in '09 when SU had no expectations, as it was coming off four seasons under former head coach Greg Robinson that featured a combined 10-37 record.
Meanwhile, Northwestern, led by head coach and alum Pat Fitzgerald, enters this season facing the same scenario as SU -- a bowl season in '10 was followed by a losing season in '11.
The difference is, the Wildcats (6-7 last season) are coming off their fourth straight bowl appearance -- a 33-22 loss to Texas A&M Aggies in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
"He's really done a great job with that program," said Marrone about Fitzgerald and the Wildcats. "They're a program that's on the rise. They're a Big Ten football team that has been to multiple bowl games, so I am sure they're working as hard as they can."
The Orange and Wildcats will enter Saturday's contest looking to execute a similar game plan -- offensively, expose a young secondary with a potent passing attack. All-in-all, the difference between losing and winning the season opener, says Marrone, is simple.
"We will be able to play a game of football next week," said Marrone. "The question is will we be able to perform."