Something was missing for Syracuse after the Orange won at West Virginia last week.
Sure, the players celebrated in the locker room and enjoyed the upset victory. But this was no surprise party. No one screamed, "Oh my god, I can't believe we did it" afterward.
Could it be that Syracuse is getting used to winning big games now?
"There was a different sense in the locker room after the West Virginia game," head coach Doug Marrone said. "People talk about changing the culture, and it's not really from the coaches. It's when players start to say, 'OK, listen, we won this game. We're going to enjoy it, but we know we have to come back and work hard and let it go.'"
Sometimes the final hurdle a program must clear when it abandons years of losing is dealing with success. Syracuse registered its first big victory this season at South Florida three weeks ago, beating the Bulls for the first time ever. The following week, the Orange returned home amid all kinds of back-slapping and enthusiasm -- and they promptly got blown out 45-14 by Pitt on homecoming.
The players refuse to say that they lost focus or got carried away from the USF win. But they readily acknowledge handling last week's victory differently.
"After the South Florida game, everyone was very excited," senior defensive back Mike Holmes said. "After the West Virginia game we were like, 'OK, we won. Time for the next game.' We're getting accustomed to winning around here."
As well they should. The Orange (5-2, 2-1 Big East) have won three of their past five conference games dating to last year, after all. They'll look to keep that positive momentum going this Saturday at Cincinnati, another team they've never beaten in league play.
In fact, the series with the Bearcats hasn't been all that close in recent years. Syracuse has lost by 21, 20 and 21 points in the past three meetings, respectively, while Cincinnati has scored an average of nearly 37 points per win.
The Bearcats have the league's best passing attack and the Big East's top two receivers, which could pose problems for the Orange defense. Syracuse has been burned by good passing teams this season, giving up four touchdown passes to both Washington's Jake Locker and Pitt's Tino Sunseri in their only two losses, both blowouts. Scott Shafer's defense loves to blitz, and if the other team can pick that up and throw deep, then things can get ugly.
"It's definitely going to come down to covering and getting pressure on the quarterback," Holmes said. "I believe we have our work cut out for us again."
But Syracuse might have caught a break with the injury to Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros. He suffered a bruised knee last week against South Florida and is questionable for Saturday. Shafer and his charges would rather throw their confusing pressure schemes at backup Chazz Anderson and see what he can do.
Either way, these Orange will arrive in Nippert Stadium as a confident bunch. And if they come away with yet another road victory, they will act like they've been there before. Because now they actually have.
"We've got to make winning a habit," linebacker Doug Hogue said. "For all of us seniors, we have to make sure the younger guys know what it's like to win and what it takes to win. We've got to keep pushing."