There is a level of uncertainty entering the season opener for every team in college football.
For Syracuse University, looking to start one of the nations toughest nonconference schedules with a victory over Northwestern at noon today in the Carrier Dome, the biggest question mark is just who will be suited up and ready to play.
The unknown for the Wildcats is how they will respond to starting the season on the road in a frenzied atmosphere.
Justin Pugh, the Oranges returning all-conference senior left tackle, has been officially ruled out for todays game, and could miss time beyond this week.
Fourth-year head coach Doug Marrone said on Thursday that the team could also be without its leading returning receiver, Alec Lemon, and tight end David Stevens, both with unspecified lower body injuries.
Were still making a decision process with Alec Lemon, were still making a decision process on David Stevens, said Marrone, who is 2-1 in season openers with Syracuse. Both players have been involved in practice, both players have been dressed.
The team has not provided any further updates on either players status.
Aside from its injuries, one of the biggest concerns for the Orange is who will be on the field for the Wildcats, particularly quarterback Kain Colter.
Colter is Northwesterns leading returning passer (673 yards), rusher (654), and receiver (466). This year, the versatile athlete will be lined up exclusively at quarterback to run the teams signature spread offense.
The Orange struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks a season ago, suffering losses to Louisville (Teddy Bridgewater), Cincinnati (Munchie Legaux) and South Florida (B.J. Daniels).
Syracuse allowed 27, 37, and 30 points in each of those games, respectively.
We have faced a lot of those quarterbacks in the past and each one of them is a little bit different, Marrone said. Kain has outstanding speed and can get outside the pocket. Hes been an outstanding wide receiver at times for Northwestern, so we have to be careful for where he is in the pocket and our rush lanes and what were doing.
Marrone compared Kains playing style to that of former Boston College star Doug Flutie.
He can really hurt you running the football, can extend plays, and he can pull the ball down and make big plays, Marrone said. Hes a very dangerous player for them and one that we need to be aware of.
According to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 6-0 in season openers and 19-5 in games outside of the Big Ten Conference in his head-coaching career, the biggest concern for the Wildcats is the Carrier Domes atmosphere.
Fitzgerald said that his team spent much of its practice time over the last 10 days indoors, trying to simulate the domes lighting, crowd noise, and especially the humidity.
I call it the dome sweat, Fitzgerald said. Once you get into the dome, it feels good during pre-game, but once you start sweating, it just never ends until you get out of the shower and probably on the bus going home.
Fitzgerald also discussed Syracuses toughness and physicality, saying that they play with the mindset of their head coach, and expressed concern over the Oranges talent at the skill positions.
Ryan Nassib is a veteran quarterback and he manages their offense extremely well, Fitzgerald said. I think theyve got a great set of skill guys, theyre replacing some guys in the backfield, but they can run.
Todays game will be the third meeting between the two schools in the last five seasons. Syracuse won the most recent matchup, 37-34, on Sept. 20, 2009.