DeleteNEW YORK — It’s been almost 50 years since a bowl game was played in the Big Apple.
What, you don’t remember the Gotham Bowl at the original Yankee Stadium back in 1962?
Well, it hasn’t been nearly that long since Syracuse and Kansas State played in the postseason, though it surely must have felt like forever to their fans.
The Orange and Wildcats return to late December football Thursday at Yankee Stadium in the first Pinstripe Bowl.
Syracuse’s resurgence has been led by Bronx native Doug Marrone, the second-year coach and Orange alum who took over a once-proud program that plunged to unprecedented depths over the past decade.
“It’s been a long time, we haven’t been in a bowl game since 2004, haven’t had a winning season since 2001, so a lot of people put their orange away for quite some time, and now it’s starting to come back out,” Marrone said Wednesday during a news conference at Yankee Stadium. “We’re proud to give them that opportunity and the program is heading in the right direction, but really, we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do.”
The Orange (7-5) won as many Big East games this season (four) as they had in the past five combined.
Kansas State’s first bowl appearance since the 2006 season comes with a coach in his second season, too — sort of.
Bill Snyder came out of retirement after three years to help rejuvenate the Wildcats (7-5).
“Coach Snyder is a legendary coach in our profession,” Marrone said.
In his first stint as Kansas State coach, Snyder orchestrated maybe the greatest turnaround in college football history. The Wildcats were laughingstocks when he took over in 1989.
Snyder turned them into a perennial Top 25 team and even had them contending for national titles in the late 1990s. The Miracle in Manhattan, it was called.
This week Snyder and the Wildcats got a taste of some of the wonders of the other Manhattan, such as the Empire State Building, Times Square — and snarled traffic.
“I live 2 minutes, 45 seconds from my office, so it takes some adjustment and perseverance, when you have to spend an hour, an hour and a half on the bus getting back from practice,” Snyder said.
The Wildcats arrived safely in New York on Sunday at the start of one of the worst snow storms to hit New York in recent memory. About 16 inches of snow in the city forced bowl organizers to juggle the schedule of activities for the players and Kansas State’s first “practice” was a walkthrough in a hotel ballroom in midtown.
Freezing temperatures and slush-covered sidewalks aside, the players have had plenty to do.
“New York’s a city that’s been on my bucket list for a while,” said Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman, who is from Peculiar, Mo., population 4,200.
The forecast for Thursday afternoon in the Bronx: Mostly sunny and temperatures pushing 40 degrees.
No matter the weather, Kansas State is a run-first — and second and third — offense.
Coffman is the passing part of a quarterback combo, with sophomore Collin Klein as the runner, but the No. 1 job for both is to hand the ball to Daniel Thomas.
The 228-pound senior rushed for 1,495 yards and 16 touchdowns, and likely has a lucrative career ahead of him.
“He’s pretty special,” Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “They really like NFL football in this part of the country and that’s the kind of back that he is.”
Syracuse’s success has been fueled by one of the stingiest defenses in the country.
Led by linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith, the Orange are fifth in the nation in total defense, allowing 295 yards per game.
As for the Kansas State defense, well, the key for the Wildcats is keeping it off the field.
The Wildcats rank 118th against the run and can expect to see lots of Syracuse tailbacks Delone Carter (1,035 yards rushing) and Antwon Bailey (504 yards).
Syracuse will be without the services of punter Rob Long, who had a cancerous tumor removed from his brain earlier this month, but the senior captain will be on the sideline with his teammates.
Long, Carter, Hogue and Smith are part a senior class that has endured loads of losses, but will leave Syracuse with the program on an upswing.
“It starts from the top down,” Hogue said. “Coach Marrone came in and he instilled something in this team that wasn’t there before as far as talking about tradition, being accountable. Us, the seniors, stepping up and taking that and running with, it’s what helped us progress and be dominant.”