PHILADELPHIA — Syracuse has made a habit of losing the last game of the regular season. The Orange have lost seven straight and figure it's about time to end the dubious streak.
"I've never won my last regular-season game," senior wide receiver Alec Lemon said as the Orange prepared to face Temple on Friday morning. "That's something I want to do — go out with a win. We've got to win every down, go out there and be physical, and make every play when the ball's thrown to you."
Syracuse (6-5, 4-2 Big East) was sitting at 7-3 entering the final two games of 2010, eligible to play in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Instead of finishing with a flourish, the Orange floundered, losing to Connecticut and Boston College at home before rebounding to defeat Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Last year, the Orange stood at 5-2 at midseason and lost their last five games.
"I kind of don't want it to creep into our minds," offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. "That's kind of what happened with that Pinstripe Bowl team. We kind of felt complacent after that. We had two games and we lost those two games. We could have really had a good year that year and we kind of let off the pedal.
"Last year, losing those last five games, we don't ever want to end a season (that way). Our goal is to go out and win this next game and win three in a row."
Syracuse has rallied with four wins in five games to qualify for the postseason for the second time in three years and has something more to shoot for. While the Big East's BCS bid will go to Rutgers or Louisville, Syracuse and Cincinnati (3-2 Big East) can still clinch a share of the conference championship if a number of games go their way in the final two weeks.
"We were fortunate enough to achieve our goal this season, but our regular season isn't over yet," said Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who grew up in West Chester, Pa. and will have a large entourage at the game. "We've still got a game ahead of us that we want to win. We want to finish the season off right, finish the regular season with a winning record."
Temple (4-6, 2-4) has a lot riding on the game, too. The Owls, in their first season back in the Big East since 2004, are trying to schedule a 12th game in Hawaii, and a win over Syracuse is paramount. If the Owls do get that extra game and beat both the Orange and Hawaii, they'll have the six wins needed to play in a bowl game.
"We're down the home stretch right now," Temple head coach Steve Addazio said. "We have to play Syracuse. I told our team we're playing for a bowl game,"
Syracuse is coming off an impressive comeback victory Saturday night at Missouri. Nassib hit Lemon for the winning touchdown in a 31-27 win with 20 seconds left on the clock, but the Orange left the field in tough shape and with a short turnaround.
Head coach Doug Marrone said half his 22 starters were banged-up, and there's no rest in sight. Temple beat Army 63-32 last week at West Point to snap a four-game slide — all in the Big East — as the Owls scored nine more points than in the four losses combined.
Montel Harris rushed for a Big East-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns against the Black Knights and gave quarterback Clinton Granger some breathing room in his first college start. Granger threw only four passes.
The Orange expect a difficult game.
"Everybody is a little sore, banged-up. You fight through it," Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. "Especially with what they did last week at Army, you can't look at this team as a pushover. You really have to go out there and play this game because they're going to give you everything they've got.
"We know that Temple is not what their record says they are. When we were 1-3, we knew we were better than our record. With Temple, they're way better than their record shows they are."
And with Temple, you know what you're going to get.
"We know they're going to run, run, run, and when they get tired run some more," said Bromley, who had six tackles and two sacks against Missouri. "They're a hard-nosed football team. We know we have to work hard to beat this team."