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Orange trying to stay positive

TIMES SPORTSWRITER
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SYRACUSE — The spirit of the Syracuse University football team is far from broken.


But with a loss Saturday to Louisville, it may begin to dissolve.


One more defeat will mathematically eliminate the Orange from bowl eligibility. A loss would secure the fourth consecutive losing season for Syracuse under head coach Greg Robinson. The math gets easier. Zero bowl games in four years equals zero chance for Robinson's survival.


Indeed, Robinson looked destined for the unemployment line when the New York Times reported last week that Syracuse had hired a consulting firm to begin research to find a replacement. Athletic director Dr. Daryl Gross denied that any action had been taken. The Times also stated that Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall — a former SU player and assistant coach — was listed as a strong candidate for the job, but Edsall vehemently rejected the claim earlier this week.


To make matters worse, Robinson's simmering hot seat began to sizzle when Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham was fired Monday. He will step down at the end of the season.


What does it mean to Robinson?


"We need to win some darn football games," Robinson said. "We need to continue to play better. There was some real improvement beginning to show."


Robinson sounds like a broken record, but his players believe in their coach's prophecy. Syracuse has lost its last nine Big East games, but the last conference win came at Louisville over a year ago.


"I know a lot of people might think the season is over right now," said Bruce Williams, SU's senior captain and safety. "Who's to say whether coach is going to be here or not? That's what's going on. That's the word. We try not to think about that. He's our captain right now, and we're going to follow him and let him lead us."


Starting quarterback Cameron Dantley echoed Williams's sentiments and said the Robinson rumors haven't been a distraction. Dantley said they're ready for a drastic turnaround in November. They seem to have no choice.


"You've got to take it one game at a time," Dantley said. "You can't worry about all the games after Louisville. We're not worried about Coach Robinson. We know he's a great coach, and we know he's in this for the long haul just like we are."


SCHEDULE FAR FROM SIMPLE


Syracuse can't be slighted for its schedule this season, and there is one statistic to prove it.


According to the NCAA, the Orange has the fourth-toughest schedule in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The cumulative record of SU's past and future opponents is a startling 45-25 mark — a winning percentage just over 64 percent. Only Georgia, Purdue and Oklahoma have faced a more strenuous slate.


The next Big East school with a schedule as difficult as SU's was Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were ranked 20th on the list with their opposition winning 59 percent of its games.


Sure, Akron dealt Syracuse a humiliating loss in the Orange's home opener. But SU has lost to nationally ranked foes such as Penn State and South Florida, as well as previously ranked teams like Pittsburgh and West Virginia. They also fell to vastly improved Northwestern to open the season.


The combined record of teams remaining on Syracuse's schedule is 20-13. Penn State, Akron and Northwestern each face the Orange in 2009, but SU still needs to complete the schedule with two more nonconference games.


UPDATE ON WILLIAMS


The day after SU's loss at West Virginia, a familiar face was spotted leaving Manley Field House in a car with Massachusetts licenses plates. The driver was Mike Williams — the suspended standout wide receiver for the Orange — and it begged the question.


What exactly is Williams doing these days?


Interestingly enough, Coach Robinson was asked earlier this week about Williams's status with the program. Williams was forced to leave Syracuse to address academic issues following the spring semester.


"He keeps in contact with his college here on campus, and he has to keep them updated on what he's doing," Robinson said. "From every indication, he's getting that all done, so, it sounds to me like Mike is doing everything he needs to do to try and return."


Robinson said Williams visited SU last week and hopes to be enrolled again in January. Robinson also confirmed that Williams was currently attending a junior college in Massachusetts, but didn't identify which one.


Williams led the Orange in receptions (60), receiving yards (837), touchdowns (10) and was a second-team All-Big East selection last season.


EXTRA POINTS ...


Syracuse's next game will kick off at noon on Nov. 8 at Rutgers. The game will be televised on ESPNU. ... SU received a verbal commitment from offensive-line prospect Justin Pugh. Pugh, listed at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, plays at Council Rock High School South in Holland, Pa. He is the Orange's fifth recruit for the 2009 recruiting class. ... Syracuse was one of 46 schools to make the 2008 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Academic Achievement honorable-mention list this week. The program has been honored 17 times and won the award in 2000. Colorado claimed the accolade this year.

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