SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Coming off their biggest win of the season, the Syracuse football team is looking forward to becoming bowl eligible.
What the team wants to avoid is a repeat from last fall.
A year ago, the Orange surprised 11th-ranked West Virginia 49-23 on a Friday night, then lost five straight Big East games to finish at 5-7 and miss any chance for a second straight postseason appearance.
Syracuse put itself in position for an extra game this year by toppling previously unbeaten Louisville, demolishing the then-No. 11 Cardinals 45-26 on Saturday. The Orange need to win one of their remaining two games, both on the road, to be in play for a bowl.
"This year's team is different, as every year's team is different," Orange coach Doug Marrone said Monday. "We've been striving to make less mistakes and execute better. We were able to do that against a very good football team this past weekend. How you prepared last week, what you did — how do we mirror that so that we can have the same type of performance? That's what we're trying to do."
The Orange (5-5, 4-2 Big East) scored three touchdowns in the second quarter against Louisville (9-1, 4-1), which allowed more points than it had in any game this season.
"I was proud of how we can play when we don't make mistakes that have hurt us throughout the year, when we can execute at a high level," Marrone said. "Now, it's a challenge to keep that going. The schedule doesn't get any easier going out to play an SEC team on their home field — and a very talented team."
That comes Saturday night against Missouri (5-5), which rallied from a two-touchdown halftime deficit to beat Tennessee 51-48 in four overtimes on Saturday. The Tigers are struggling with a 2-5 record in the Southeastern Conference as they make the transition from the Big 12, and both teams are aiming for that sixth win to become eligible for a bowl game.
Playing a nonconference game so late in the season presents problems for both sides.
"They don't probably know as much about us, and we don't know as much about them," Marrone said. "I think that's equal. It's good and bad. You've got to do a lot of extra work ... to make sure you're not missing anything."
The task at hand became a little more daunting on Monday when it was announced the season finale against Temple (3-6, 2-4) will be played at 11 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. That makes for a very short week for the Orange, who probably won't return to Syracuse until almost sunrise on Sunday.
"It is what it is," Marrone said. "You've just got to go out there and play and keep fighting. No need to crush sour grapes or create excuses. Just go play."
At least the Orange seems to have the right focus.
"We really haven't thought about the bowl game," center Macky MacPherson said. "We knew we had to win the next two, but it's not something we have been focusing on as a team.
"What we were focused on was beating a very good Louisville team. Now we need to focus on the Missouri team. We need to get ready to go down to Columbia and play a good football team in Missouri. We are not focused on win No. 6 as much as we are about beating Missouri."