Though many people have probably forgotten, Syracuse University once had the best college football team in the country. No one can realistically expect the current squad to achieve that status, but at least the Orangemen have broken into the Top 20. They hold down the 17th spot in the latest Associated Press poll. The team has not exactly played a killer schedule. Still, no one can complain about the results, victories over Maryland, Rutgers, Miami of Ohio, Virginia Tech, and Missouri for Syracuse's first 5-0 start since 1959, when the Orangemen went 10-0 and won the mythical national championship.
Now they get a week off before meeting Penn State, a rival that has beaten them the last 16 years. The game could be pivotal, either vaulting Syracuse higher in the rankings and perhaps on to an 11-0 regular season, or snapping the team's momentum and leading to another respectable, but hardly sensational campaign.
During the past two decades, mention of Syracuse was more likely to conjure up images of a nationally ranked basketball team (second in the nation last year) playing before large, zealous crowds, first in Manley Fieldhouse and later the Carrier Dome. The football team, which once boasted such stars as Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Jim Nance, and Larry Csonka, has played in the dome as well, but just hasn't generated the same kind of excitement. There have been occasional moments of brilliance, such as an upset of top-ranked Nebraska in 1984, but the team seldom sustains the good stretches. The best recent team went 7-4 in 1985, then lost to Maryland in the now-defunct Cherry Bowl. Last year Syracuse sank to 5-6.
This fall, however, the pieces are falling in place. The defense has been one of the stingiest in the country against the rush, and it's hard to imagine any team having a more versatile or exciting quarterback than senior Don McPherson, who has been the team's top runner the last two seasons. McPherson is a double threat, though, and passes practically as well. In last Saturday's 24-13 win over Missouri, for example, he completed 11 of 23 passes for 211 yards. Gamecocks dealt tough losses
Looking for a definition of disappointment? South Carolina can provide one after letting a nationally ranked opponent off the hook two weekends in a row. Playing on the road, the Gamecocks had both Georgia and Nebraska on the run, but could not apply the finishing touches.
In a 13-6 loss to Georgia, they penetrated the Bulldog 15-yard line five times, squandering three of the opportunities, once on a fumble at the 1-yard line, and registering just a pair of field goals. Against Nebraska, South Carolina entered the fourth quarter ahead 21-13, but let the Cornhuskers seize the momentum and rally with 17 unanswered points to account for the final 30-21 tally.
Despite the defeats, the Gamecocks possess one of the best-looking passing attacks in the country. Sports Illustrated called sophomore Todd Ellis ``the best quarterback you've never heard of'' after he set four NCAA freshman records last year. With Ellis throwing to a corps of swift, sure-handed receivers, the Gamecocks should improve on their 2-2 record in the weeks ahead. In fact, South Carolina stands a good chance of winning its next five games, but then must close out the season against Top 10 teams Clemson and Miami. With a little more polish, however, they could pull an upset against either or both of these powers. Briefly speaking
Columbia is on the verge of extending its losing streak to a national record 35 games. Last Saturday, the Lions tied the existing mark of 34 set by Northwestern from 1979 to 1982. Coach Larry McIlreavy has said, ``I'm a big believer in that when we deserve to win, we will win.'' Something incredible would have to happen this weekend to produce a favorable result. The Lions hit the road to meet Princeton, whom they haven't beaten since 1945.
Just when the University of Miami's quarterbacking well had presumably run dry, the Hurricanes have uncovered another crack field general. Sophomore Steve Walsh, a third-stringer who threw only two passes last season, is proving himself a worthy successor to Vinny Testaverde, who followed Bernie Kosar, who succeeded Jim Kelly.
Walsh has exhibited great poise in leading the Hurricanes to 3-0 record, helping to extend the team's regular-season winning streak to 24 games. In last week's 26-25 thriller over Florida State, he threw for 254 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, and the week before he guided the 'Canes to a 51-7 rout of a Arkansas.