Syracuse rookie coach Marrone psyched for 1st game

Sep 2, 2009 - 8:03 AM By JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y.(AP) -- Doug Marrone couldn't be more fired up for his first game as a college coach.

"I'm excited, it's game week," Syracuse's rookie head coach said as the Orange began preparation for Saturday's season opener at home against Minnesota. "This is what I've always wanted to do. This is where I've always wanted to be."

Brave man, at least at this juncture.

After averaging eight wins a year from 1986 to 2004 (Marrone played offensive line from 1983-85 for coach Dick MacPherson) and playing in 13 bowl games, Syracuse has fallen to the depths of college football.

In four seasons under Greg Robinson, the Orange went 10-37, including the school's first two 10-loss seasons since it started playing the game in 1889. Only five of Robinson's wins were over BCS schools, and his Orange finished last each year in the Big East, going 3-25 overall, with two of those victories against Louisville.

Marrone's top priority was choosing a quarterback and revamping a porous offensive line that two years ago allowed an incredible 54 sacks (4.5 a game). Former Duke point guard Greg Paulus is the chosen one at quarterback. Paulus grew up in Syracuse and starred in high school at Christian Brothers Academy just down the road from SU.

Marrone selected Paulus early in training camp, even though the former Duke basketball captain hasn't played the game competitively since being named 2004 Gatorade High School National Football Player of the Year.

The team believes. Paulus, who has just one year of eligibility, is one of four captains selected by the players.

"I'm thankful he came along," Marrone said.

Marrone's demanding approach to the game has led to the departure of 19 scholarship players since he succeeded Robinson in December. That has left the Orange a little thin on both sides of the ball, but there are some quality players ready to make an imprint, and former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson thinks they will.

"It could be hyperbole on my part and I could be waxing the football poetic, but I really believe," said McPherson, who led Syracuse to an unbeaten season in 1987. "I've been around this team, I've talked to a couple of players over the course of the months since Doug has been here, and there's a notable difference. And I think it's going to show on the field. I think it's showing in guys leaving.

"Since coach Marrone has been around, if you kind of surveyed not just guys on the team but people down at Manley Field House, there is an expectation for these guys to be better."

Marrone has a solid nucleus in the offensive backfield in tailbacks Delone Carter, Averin Collier and Antwon Bailey. Carter, 2005 Mr. Ohio Football, turned a lot of heads in preseason camp and will start.

"I can't wait to hit somebody," said Carter, who ran for 713 yards in 2006 - the second-highest total for a freshman in Syracuse history - before dislocating a hip the following spring and missing all of 2007. He played in only five games a year ago.

Paulus will have a skilled receiver to throw to in senior Mike Williams, who's back after missing last year because of academic problems. Williams, who had TD catches in nine straight games before his academic problems surfaced, will start alongside freshman Alec Lemon and sophomore Marcus Sales.

All of Marrone's changes have left the Orange with just four starters returning on offense and one, left guard Tucker Baumbach, at a new position. Six starters return on defense.

"There's a lot of preparation that needs to go into Saturday," Paulus said Tuesday. "We want to show some of the things we've been working on. I know we're anxious and excited. Playing against a different opponent (Minnesota) will allow us to see where we're at."

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