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Legacy murky for Syracuse seniors

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SYRACUSE — The 15 seniors on the Syracuse University football team will play their final game at the Carrier Dome this Saturday with a chance to leave a lasting impact.

A win over undefeated and nationally-ranked No. 10/11 Louisville would get the Orange one step closer to a bowl game, and be the ideal way for the seniors to say farewell to the Dome.

Thus far the legacy of this senior class, while still being defined, is debatable.

“It’s kind of like, ups and downs,” said senior wide receiver Alec Lemon, the program’s all-time leader in receptions. “We had some tough seasons starting out, but the journey with this whole coaching staff and the players and the seniors, it’s been something special.”

Statistically, this class features some of the program’s all-time best, starting with quarterback Ryan Nassib.

He ranks first all-time with 723 career completions, and is second in career touchdown passes with 62.

He broke his own school record for most passing yards in a season against Cincinnati last Saturday, and now owns three of the top six passing yardage totals in school history.

His pair of senior wide receivers, Lemon and Marcus Sales, rank first and sixth, respectively, for the most catches in school history. They are the first pair of teammates to each eclipse 100 receptions.

Together, that experienced trio has Syracuse on pace to break its single-season record for total offense. Its four games eclipsing the 500-yard mark this season is already a school record.

Ultimately, though, this could be a group remembered for losing more games than such stats would usually indicate, mostly by hurting itself with mistakes.

In Nassib’s mind, his class won’t be defined by stats or frustrating, self-inflicted losses.

“It would have to do with our resilience and our ability to go out every game and really give it our best effort and really just keep fighting,” Nassib said. “That’s one thing, when we look at each other at the end of the game, either win or lose, we know that we gave it all we had and we left it all on the field. That’s something I think our senior class will leave.”

After an 8-5 season in 2010 that included a win in the PinStripe Bowl, Syracuse lost five straight to finish 5-7 last year and be denied a bowl berth.

This season, the Orange (4-5 overall, 3-2 Big East) has had opportunities to win in several games that ended up as losses, either by an untimely mistake or just the sheer volume of mistakes eventually being too much to overcome.

But, to Nassib’s point, they always seem to keep fighting.

“We’re definitely mentally tough and physically tough,” Sales said. “You can tell from the South Florida game, when we were down at halftime, how we came out and played in the second half showed how tough we are.”

The game Sales referred to, a 37-36 victory over the Bulls on Oct. 27, was the largest comeback win in program history, and ended with Nassib throwing the game-winning touchdown to Lemon with three seconds left.

The group almost pulled off an even bigger comeback against Northwestern in its season opener, but suffered a 42-41 loss after rallying back from a 22-point deficit midway through the third quarter to take the lead with just under two minutes left.

Even in losses to Rutgers and Minnesota where the mistakes piled up, Syracuse was within one score when the clock expired.

Nassib has eight career comeback wins in three seasons as the starter, including five where he led the team to a score on the game’s final drive.

But again, one bowl appearance and two sub-.500 seasons likely won’t be enough for this class to be forever revered.

Syracuse needs to win two of its final three games to qualify for a bowl and change that.

“That’s all I have is, hopefully you have four more games left,” Lemon said. “As a college player, that’s what you play for, to go to a bowl game.”

The latest, and final, challenge of trying to reach a bowl for this class begins at noon on Saturday and will be televised on ABC.

“This is the reason why we play this game. So we’re going to take it as a challenge and go out there and play our hearts out,” Sales said.

“We got a great opportunity ahead of us,” Nassib said.

MARRONE NAMES 2012 CAPTAINS

Head coach Doug Marrone announced the 2012 season captains this week.

Nassib, offensive tackle Justin Pugh, linebacker Siriki Diabate and safety Shamarko Thomas were elected as season captains by the players and coaches.

“I know at the end of the day, the best four players have done the best job and have been voted,” Marrone said.

Game captains were selected on a weekly basis throughout the season, with Marrone’s plan to honor season captains before the last home game.

“I was really trying to get the best of everything and taking that pressure of being the captain during the year and having multiple people work on leadership and helping this team,” Marrone said. “At the end of the year, let’s vote and see who’s gone through the adversity and the tough times that what you go through during the season where you truly have to be a leader.”

SENIOR BUCKET LIST

The four-year Orange players entered the season without wins over three Big East opponents, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville.

After earning wins over the Huskies and Panthers this year, the Cardinals are the last team left on the list.

“It would be kind of exciting to beat them at home on senior day and get that check, that last Big East team off my bucket list,” Lemon said.

TRIO RECEIVES ACADEMIC HONORS

Nassib, center Macky MacPherson and Sam Rodgers each earned 2012 Capital One All-District honors for their performance in the classroom, community and on the field.

All three will be on the national Capital One Academic All-America Team ballot, where a first, second and third team will be selected at the end of the month.

SALUTE A SOLDIER

The Orange has expanded its “Salute a Soldier,” promotion for this Saturday’s game. Any military personnel with proper identification will receive two free tickets at Carrier Dome Gates A, B, C, and E.

Josh St.Croix covers Syracuse University football for the Times. He can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net.

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