Football

Syracuse wins share of Big East championship after Louisville beats Rutgers Thursday

The Orange is co-Big East champion for the first time in eight years

Andrew Renneisen | Staff Photographer

Prince-Tyson Gulley (23) celebrates with Zack Chibane (75) during Syracuse's upset win over Louisville on Nov. 10. The Orange clinched a share of the Big East championship Thursday when Louisville defeated Rutgers.

Syracuse earned a share of the Big East championship Thursday after Louisville defeated Rutgers to cause a three-way tie at the top of the conference. The piece of the title is the first for the Orange since 2004.

The Syracuse football team gathered Thursday night to watch the Cardinals defeat the Scarlet Knights together.

SU defensive tackle Eric Crume said the Orange players celebrated in the Iocolano-Petty Football Wing as the Cardinals victory made them co-Big East champs.

“It was ecstatic in there,” Crume said. “This is a family-oriented team, man.”

Then they busted through the doors of the complex to continue the celebration outside.

“We ran outside and screamed across the campus,” SU linebacker Cameron Lynch said. “We were happy.”

The Orange is currently in a three-way tie for first place with the Cardinals and Scarlet Knights as all three teams finished 5-2 in conference play. The teams all split their games against the other two to create the three-way tie. Syracuse set up the chance to finish atop the conference with its 45-26 win over Louisville in the Carrier Dome, and the Cardinals win Thursday clinched that tie.

The title is Syracuse’s fifth and final Big East championship. The Orange will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

“This is my first major accomplishment in college, as far as winning something as a team and as a unit,” Crume said. “It’s one of my top moments in my whole life.”

Cincinnati still remains in the mix to make it a four-way tie for the title with a win over Connecticut in its regular-season finale on Saturday. Louisville will likely take the league’s Bowl Championship Series berth, as the win over Rutgers should help it finish the season ranked the highest in the BCS standings of the four possible teams.

The share of the title was made possible by SU’s strong finish to the season, in which it won four of its last five Big East games – a stretch highlighted by the 19-point win over the previously unbeaten Cardinals.

The slice of the championship is remarkable considering the collapse of last year’s team. The Orange went from the top of the Big East following a 26-point thrashing of West Virginia to the depths of despair following a five-game losing streak to end the season.

It left a sour taste in the mouths of last year’s senior class, which only makes them happier to see the 2012 team rebound, respond and regroup. The Orange finished this season by winning five of its final six games and the team appeared to grow stronger with each successive victory.

“I think they showed some toughness hanging in there the whole season and finishing off the season very strong,” said former SU fullback Tombe Kose, who graduated in May. “It makes me feel great because obviously our senior year we wanted to go out with a bang, and it started off on a great note and we thought we would win the Big East and get a BCS berth. So to see them do it, especially considering a lot of guys on that team were special teammates and special friends of ours, to see them pull it out makes me really proud of them.”

The team started the season 2-4 and was picked to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason media poll, making the title share that much sweeter.

Lynch credits the turnaround that made it all possible in part to head coach Doug Marrone adjusting his coaching style. He said Marrone became more involved with the players, talking to them more and arguing more calls on the sideline.

Marrone’s transformation as a coach helped the team transform. SU took better care of the ball and forced more turnovers down the stretch while the offense grew into an explosive and balanced unit.

It all translated to the program’s second bowl berth in three years and now, a share of its first Big East title since 2004.

“I’m excited, man,” Lynch said. “At the beginning of the year people didn’t think we would be able to do it saying Syracuse will finish last in the Big East and all this. We proved people wrong.”

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