em>Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Syracuse fans probably think they've already seen the worst-case scenario unfold over the last four years. But what about this season? Here are the extreme possibilities on either side:
Greg Paulus is The Natural. Shaking off four years of rust, Paulus plays like the Gatorade national high school player of the year he once was as the Orange offense finally generates some excitement again in the Carrier Dome. Receiver Mike Williams is better than he was the last time anyone saw him two years ago, and running backs Delone Carter, Antwon Bailey and Averin Collier give Syracuse an explosive 1-2-3 punch.
The Orange open by shocking Minnesota at home, and though they get shellacked at Penn State, they come back to upset Northwestern the following week. After rolling over Maine for a 3-1 start, Syracuse comes back to earth a little bit by losing to South Florida and West Virginia at home. A win over Akron precedes two more conference losses, to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
But a late-season renaissance brings a third straight victory over Louisville and a year-ending upset of UConn and alumnus Randy Edsall, who turned down the Syracuse job in the offseason. A 6-6 record leaves the Orange bowl eligible, and the International Bowl snaps them up to capitalize on the Paulus craze.
The Paulus experiment is so successful that Jim Boeheim allows all of his players to go out for football the following spring.
Pumped up by being named Big East coach of the year (and by about 10 Red Bulls), Doug Marrone gets the No. 44 tattooed on his forehead.
Paulus is pretty good. As a basketball player. As a quarterback with no college experience, he is completely lost, and opponents can't wait to throw all sorts of blitzes at him. Bruised and battered, he doesn't make it through the first three games, all losses.
The lack of depth on the roster -- 18 scholarship players have left the program since Marrone took over -- begins to exact a heavy toll as injuries mount. The defense lacks answers at defensive end, linebacker and defensive back and is as porous as it was in the lowest point of the Robinson era.
The offensive line continues to struggle in the spring, and there's nobody at receiver to take pressure off Williams. Syracuse wins two games -- against Maine and Akron -- while watching Rutgers win the Big East and excite New York City.
Meanwhile, Michigan leads the Big Ten in points allowed, and Wolverines fans shower praise on their new defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson.
The NCAA grants Eric Devendorf an extra year of college eligibility, and Marrone immediately names him the starting quarterback for 2010.