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November 3, 2009

Man, it is just a weird(er) scene in Syracuse. Mike Williams quitting the team is the raging story. Conspiracy and suspicions abound over the abrupt departure.

Williams was recently selected as one of 10 national semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is presented annually to college football’s most outstanding wide receiver by the Tallahassee Touchdown Club. Williams leads the Big East Conference in receiving yards and receptions. He was on pace to rewrite the Syracuse record book for receivers.

In seven games this season, Williams caught 49 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns. That’s as many receptions as the next three receivers – Donte Davis, Antwon Bailey and Marcus Sales – have combined to catch for the Orange. The school record for receptions in a season is 60.

The decision by Williams is especially shocking because of the hoops he jumped through to get back in school and on the team.

Riverside high school football coach Tony Truilizio said he believes Williams was about a semester short of completing his degree and was shocked by Marrone’s announcement. He said he tried to call Williams but was unsuccessful.

“Something doesn’t sound right,” he said.

The Mike Williams timeline does simplify things in my view. It’s all about the academics.

Williams is an excellent talent and big potential WR. He had no problems off-the-field with distractions or the police blotter. He actually liked being a part of Syracuse, as reflected by all he did to get back to the school and team.

But, and this is the big part, he hated the academic aspect. He either has an undiagnosed learning disability or he simply doesn’t want to bother. He showed little interest in putting even minimal effort in the education. That ultimately is what took him off the field and his quitting the team. He would rather leave the team than do the work needed off-the-field. All the academic support programs and tutors in the world cannot help if the kid doesn’t want to try.

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said little about Williams departure in his Monday presser. Instead focusing on defending QB Greg Paulus and the rest of the Syracuse players still on the team.

That’s the important thing. As bad as the Orange have been thanks to Greg Robinson, Marrone does have the team playing hard to this point. They have been beaten because of no depth (20 players departing since Marrone came in) and less talent. He has to change the culture for the players that are there while trying to bring in better talent and keep them positive.

The Orange spent the early part of the season searching for an identity. If nothing else, they are seemingly a more aggressive and physical team.

“I don’t know about the past,” said Marrone, who is the first Syracuse alum since 1948 to take over the Orange. “You look at talent, and use it the best way you can.

“We saw on the film that in the past we didn’t tackle well. Offensively, I know we are becoming a more physical team as the season goes along. We are making these steps toward being a better team, but they haven’t been big enough to equal the wins. Hopefully we can get that this week.”

In rebuilding the program, Marrone has tried to build on the team’s strength. So far, Syracuse has leaned on a run defense that is No. 1 in the Big East and seventh overall in the country.

Doesn’t that make Syracuse the 3d “#1 ranked run defense in the Big East” Pitt has faced this season. First UConn, then Rutgers. Now Syracuse. And Pitt’s running game has dropped them each time.

Of course, Coach Wannstedt does need to build up the opponent, so here goes.

“They’re playing better now,” Wannstedt said yesterday at his weekly news conference. “They are much improved. I think that Doug Marrone has these kids believing in the Syracuse tradition. They’re giving phenomenal effort in all three phases. Last week against Cincinnati they were in position to tie it up right before the half when they threw the interception. Who knows if that doesn’t happen?

“So there’s no question that they are an improved football team. They’ve got talent and they’re well coached.”

Now it is worth noting that no matter how inept Syracuse has looked the last couple of years, they have given Pitt a hard time. Nearly upsetting Pitt in Heinz Field a couple years ago and then last year Pitt struggled horribly on both sides of the ball for nearly 3 quarters.

I admit, I am taking the Orange a little lighter than I should. Of course, I’m not playing. The players still cannot.

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chuck Fiello Jr. and Pitt Panthers Buzz, Chas Rich. Chas Rich said: A lot of drama leading into the Syr-Pitt game. Of course, all the drama is on the Orange side. link to […]

[…] Williams quitting was related to a pending suspension, but not academic as I speculated. It was about going to a casino Saturday night in explicit violation of what their coach had told […]

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