Tough slate pays off for Syracuse

Syracuse's climb out of a 2-4 hole and into the bowl mix for the second time in three years may have come down to a task as simple as taking better care of the football.

But Doug Marrone thinks it's been more than just that during this four-win-in-five-game stretch for his Orange team.

"It's very easy to point to the turnovers and penalties and things like that, but what I'm most pleased with up to this point is the way the players have responded," the fourth-year coach said. "Until you've been in that situation, it's very difficult. I've said this before: You can say, 'Well, they're a student-athlete, they're on scholarship.' Or, 'They're pro athletes, that's their job.' But it's still very difficult.

"So the team, just to hang in there and keep pushing it and getting themselves better, and then seeing the results of when you don't turn the ball over and you're able to execute at a level that produces wins just confirms what we're trying to do in coaching, getting [them] to play at the highest level they can play at."

The Orange have forced nine turnovers during their last five outings, giving it away just three times themselves. They have jumped 40 spots nationally in turnover margin during that span, from 115th to 75th.

Their one loss since Oct. 13 came in a two-turnover performance at Cincinnati, a game that looked a lot like their four earlier losses, when they gave it away 13 times.

Marrone embraced Syracuse's challenging nonconference slate back in camp, unafraid of it potentially holding back a team that struggled down the stretch last season, when it dropped its final five contests to miss making a second straight bowl game.

The Orange ended up getting back to the six-win mark this season by finishing the job Saturday at Missouri, their fourth opponent from a BCS conference outside of the Big East.

"We've had probably the toughest out of conference schedule for a BCS team," Marrone said. "There's plusses and minuses in everything no matter how you schedule. For us, we learned a lot about ourselves early on and the problems we had were exploited. We were able to make some adjustments and do some things to help us down the road, which has developed us. It's a positive experience, the type of schedule we play for our kids."