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Chew chomps Big East

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A year ago, Van Chew's name didn't conjure fear into opponents. Fans didn't know who he was then, either.


A sophomore, Chew finished the season 11th on Syracuse's receptions list. He played in only five games, made six catches for only 66 total yards.


He never doubted his future presence in Syracuse's passing game.


"I knew because I got coaching from (former Syracuse receivers coach Rob) Moore and it built up my confidence," Chew said. "I knew I could have an impact on winning."


Chew has emerged as Syracuse's top receiver midway through the season. Now a junior, he decimated his previous career marks and has 28 receptions, 452 yards and three touchdowns. Only Delone Carter has more touchdowns than Chew.


At the start of the year, all signs pointed to Marcus Sales as the Orange's top option. But coach Doug Marrone said Sales doesn't practice well and until he shows more consistency, he won't be on the field.


Marrone has held true to his words. Sales has played in just two games, made only five catches, one of which was a touchdown. Coming into the season, Sales was the most experienced receiver with 28 catches and three touchdowns in 2009. He played in nine of the team's 12 games.


With Sales apparently not working hard enough to earn playing time, Chew has stepped up and has no intentions or relinquishing his spot atop Syracuse's aerial attack.


"Every time I'm thrown the ball, I try to make a play on it," he said. "I'm good technique-wise, but I've still got to work on the little things like route running and being disciplined in my routes."


Chew's playmaking will be critical when Syracuse travels to play West Virginia on Saturday. The Mountaineers allowed less than 180 yards through the air in each of its last two victories against UNLV and South Florida. Neither team scored more than 10 points.


On top of those statistics, Chew is up against a hostile crowd at Mountaineer Field.


He doesn't mind the challenge.


"I like playing away because I like quieting the crowd and taking over the game," Chew said.


TOUGHEST TEST


In the preseason, Syracuse could look at its schedule and pinpoint the end of October as the most grueling stretch.


It is home only once and traveled to two seemingly brutal opponents in South Florida and West Virginia. Its lone home game was against then-No. 15 ranked Pittsburgh.


Syracuse managed a surprise win at South Florida two weeks ago. The following week, perhaps a bit high on itself, the Orange was humiliated in a 45-14 trouncing by Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome.


Now, Syracuse takes on No. 20 West Virginia on the road. After the Mountaineers, the road is easier for the Orange as it tries to become bowl eligible.


Syracuse needs three more wins. A win against West Virginia would nearly assure it. A loss doesn't kill its hopes.


After West Virginia, Syracuse has Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut and Boston College remaining.


Three wins against those remaining teams is possible. But can Syracuse move past the loss to Pittsburgh and rebound against West Virginia? Or, should Syracuse lose to the Mountaineers, would the Orange's season spiral into disappointment?


"We have a 48-hour rule to react to the loss," Chew said. "After that, we focus on the next opponent. That's all we've been doing."


THE MOUNTAINEER FACTOR


Syracuse has not fared well at Mountaineer Field this century.


Syracuse hasn't won at West Virginia since 2000. The Orange has lost by a combined 119-36 score in four meetings on the road.


Two years ago, Syracuse came close, but it blew a lead and eventually lost 17-6. Chew remembers it and his one reception.


"It was a little hostile," he said. "As the game progressed, it got louder."


Marrone hasn't been since his playing days with Syracuse in the 1980s. He still remembers it.


"It is an extremely difficult place to play," he said. "That's what is fun about college football — it's challenging."


Sportswriter Daniel J. Cassavaugh covers Syracuse University football for the Times. You may reach him at dcassavaugh@wdt.net.

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