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USC, Missouri Highlight Most Important Games In 2012 For Syracuse

The Orange can't afford to take a week off this year.
Syracuse lineman perform the fort drum pugil fighting drill.

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Football has not been Syracuse's strongest sport the past decade. Yet, believe it or not, Orange fans still pack the stands of the Carrier Dome to cheer on Doug Marrone's squad.

After losing its last five games of the season in 2011 and finishing 1-6 in conference play, Syracuse will look to make 2012 a rebound year. SU will have some tough non-conference opponents, and of course the same difficult Big East teams.

Here are the five most important games for Syracuse this season.

Sept. 8, vs. USC

After an impressive comeback win against Wake Forest in Syracuse's first game of the 2011 season (and another victory over Rhode Island), it looked like momentum would be in its favor going into the USC game in Pasadena.

Although the Orange mustered 17 points against an always strong Trojan defense, they ultimately came up short, losing 38-17. Syracuse gets another shot at defeating Lane Kiffin's squad, but it will be as part of New York's College Classic at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Syracuse has games that it should win with ease, but this is one it will have to fight for from start to finish.

Oct. 5, vs. Pittsburgh

The Orange have not beaten the Pittsburgh Panthers since 2004. That is a losing streak that needs to end, especially in a season in which Syracuse expects to return to a bowl game. Last year, bowl eligibility was on the line when these two met, as Syracuse was 5-6 going into the final game of the year. The Orange lost 33-20 in Pittsburgh, capping off a disappointing end to the season.

The Panthers invade the Carrier Dome in 2012, and home-field advantage may be the difference maker if SU is to end the seven-year losing streak.

Nov. 3, at Cincinnati

Cincinnati piled on the points against Syracuse last season and Ryan Nassib did not have many answers on offense as the Bearcats won 30-13. This year's awayer a must-win for an Orange program that has fallen a few steps behind Cincinnati in recent years. Cinci should have a down year, so it's the perfect opportunity to steal a win on the road.

Nov. 17, at Missouri

Syracuse will finish its regular season with two away games; the first is in Columbia against the Missouri Tigers. Mizzou is just joining the SEC and probably looks at Syracuse as a cupcake compared to its other opponents; but like most games, it's always possible the underdog pulls the upset.

Nov. 23, at Temple

The Temple Owls ran the ball extremely well last season. They finished seventh overall in rushing yards with 256.5 per game and won nine games, defeating Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

Syracuse will play Temple in Philadelphia in the final game of the season (on a field in which the Owls went 5-2 last year). Although the Owls are moving back to the Big East from a weaker conference, SU cannot take the match-up lightly. It's very possible that Syracuse needs this win to become bowl eligible.