Remedy or another obstacle?

The University of Miami's drive for a fifth football national championship is back on track after a narrow escape at Boston College last week. An eight straight victory and a few points shaved from their BCS standing later, the Hurricanes are probably thankful they are still in the hunt for January.

But the Hurricanes don't have much time to ponder over their current status regarding a national title. In order to have a chance to play in Pasadena, the Hurricanes must first win the Big East championship.

Step No. 1 in winning the conference title for the sixth time since joining the Big East in 1991 is taking care of their next opponent- something that didn't seem like much of a task back in September.

The Hurricanes (8-0, 5-0) host the surging Syracuse Orangemen (8-2, 5-0) in the Orange Bowl Saturday afternoon (Nov. 17) in a game that quite possibly will decide the conference champion.

"This Syracuse is not a push over by any means," said University of Miami head coach Larry Coker said. "They are playing extremely well in all areas and now that there is a lot at stake.

They'll be ready, there is no doubt about that." Not too many people would have predicted the Orangemen would be in a position to take the conference title and bump Miami out of the national title picture considering the way they started the season.

Syracuse opened the schedule with consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Tennessee, looking sloppy in a 33-9 thumping at the hands of the Vols. But since then Syracuse has run off eight straight victories including a road victory over previously unbeaten Virginia Tech.

"I'm I surprised? No I'm not surprised," said Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni, about his team's sudden turn around. "The guys have responded in a positive way and haven't let all the negative stuff bother them. Everybody has banned together and made sure we leave everything on the field every time we step out there. Some more than others.

Syracuse resurrection has been anchored by the effectiveness of tailback James Mungro, mistake-free outings from quarterback R.J. Anderson and the defensive antics of senior Dwight Freeney.

Despite forming part of a defensive unit that is sixth in total defense in the Big East allowing 331.1 yards per game, Freeney is garnering plenty of Heisman Trophy consideration by almost single handedly carrying the Orangemen.

With two sacks in a 24-13 Syracuse victory over West Virginia last Saturday, Freeney set an NCAA record for sacks in a season with 16.5 (the NCAA started recognizing such stat just last year).

Julius Peppers had 15 sacks for North Carolina last season. Freeney is now on the heels of Corey Moore, who set a Big East record of 17 sacks at Virginia Tech.

Freeney may not be among the leaders nationally in total totals, although he has created a lot of problems in other ways from his end position. Aside from being the nation's sack leader, Freeney is first in the Big East in tackles for losses (24.5), fumbles forced (7) and fumbles recovered (3). A quick first step and physical nature have made Freeney one of the best players in the country, regardless of position.

Pasqualoni doesn't lose fact of what Freeney means to the Syracuse defense.

"Dwight gives a guy who is an impact player and change the tempo of the game," said Pasqualoni. "He's a guy the offense has to make adjustments to even before the game starts. Rarely do you have a guy like that. Sometimes you have a one on offense that's a real impact guy, like a quarterback. It's not everyday that you have a guy that can dominate a game on defense like Dwight."

But Freeney will have a huge assignment going up against the Hurricanes offensive-line and perhaps the best offensive tackle in college football in that of Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie hasn't allowed a sack since pinning down a spot on the Hurricanes offensive-line.

"It should be great battle between two great players that go top flight all the time," Pasqualoni said. "It's going to be a huge challenge for Dwight as well as for our passing game and running game. Miami is not a one-dimensional team. It's not all rushing the passer. It's going t hard. They have a great line."

Pasqualoni is hoping that Freeney and his defensive cohorts can fills the gaps and follow their assignments against the Hurricanes offensive-line on Saturday.

"I'm hoping they can play their game, play gap control and be where they are supposed to be," said Pasqualoni. "They'll have to hold up against those big guys trying to shove and block them out of the way. They need to stay in their gaps. Hopefully the linebackers can get in their gaps, then the safeties can play the cutbacks and that type of stuff."

The Orangemen ranked near the bottom of the conference in total offense with 319.3 yards a game, although Mungro has anchored a steady running attack. Mungro, coming off a 78-yard and three touchdown performance against West Virginia, is third on the Syracuse career TD list with 27. Mungro is fifth in career rushing yards with 2,676 yards, just seven behind running backs coach David Walker. Mungro is fourth in the Big East rushing this year with 937 yards and is tied for a conference lead in touchdowns with 12. He has 1,134 all-purpose yards.

"I'm really looking forward to playing such a great team like Miami. There is nothing like measuring up against the best and in my opinion they have the best team in the country," Mungro said.

Anderson has only thrown for 810 yards and has delivered a modest four touchdowns all season. But the team has responded to the sophomore signal-caller and Pasqualoni has praised Anderson for playing under control all season despite average results.

"R.J. is trying hard to do the right thing and avoid making mistakes that cost you games. He hasn't played perfectly, but he's trying very hard. We just hope that he can have a good week and play well against Miami."

UM starting quarterback Ken Dorsey is probably also wishing to elevate his performance after throwing four interceptions last week against Boston College. Dorsey (2004 passing yards, 15 TD passes and 8 interceptions) is confident his outing at BC is a thing of the past.

"I learn from it. I'll be better because of it," said Dorsey, who is 22-1 as Miami's starting quarterback.

If where Dorsey were to have another off day, the Hurricanes in all likelihood will turn to junior running back Clinton Portis. Portis, who ran for 160 yards against Boston College last week, is third in the Big East with 839 yards and has scored six touchdowns.

History isn't on the side of the Orangemen heading into the contest. Miami leads the all-time series 12-7 and has posted nine wins over Syracuse since joining the Big East. The Hurricanes have won the last eight of 10 meetings and have outscored Syracuse 71-13 the last two seasons. The Orangemen defeated UM 66-13 in 1999 at home.

"We've worked all season to be in position to play this game. It's really exciting to play in this kind of game. I think the kids will handle this game like another one-week season. This is the 11th one-week season. We're going to handle this week exactly the same way we've handled each week. There won't be anything different. We're just going about it one day at a time.

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