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Wildcats, Orangemen Get Nod

Richard Rosenblatt Associated Press

With Bucky Badger in New Jersey and the Sooner Schooner in Chicago, it can only mean one thing: The college football season has arrived.

Today, it’s Oklahoma vs. Northwestern in the Pigskin Classic at Soldier Field. Sunday, No. 17 Syracuse plays No. 24 Wisconsin at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“To be ready to open the season is a great feeling,” Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said Friday. “To be playing so early - ‘What is it, like August 22? - is exciting.”

With the versatile Donovan McNabb leading the Orangemen, Pasqualoni can’t wait to see if his squad can start with a victory. Last year, Syracuse was ranked 10th in the preseason, lost its first two but finished 9-3, with a share of the Big East title and a victory in the Liberty Bowl.

“I hope we can hit the nail on the head on Sunday,” Pasqualoni said. While Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said his Badgers will have their hands full trying to contain McNabb, the Orangemen have their own woes - dealing with Ron “Great” Dayne, all 5-foot-10, 262 pounds of him.

Dayne ran for 1,863 yards and 18 TDs, with 948 of those yards coming after contact was made. And by the fourth quarter of some games, he had worn down defenses so much that opponents shied away from going after him.

On with the picks:

(17) Syracuse (minus 8) vs. (24) Wisconsin (Sunday)

Donovan vs. Dayne? Dayne may come out on top, but Orangemen survive … Syracuse 31, Wisconsin 24

Oklahoma (plus 4-1/2) vs. Northwestern

Funny how things change: Sooners used to be haves and Wildcats havenots … Northwestern 28, Oklahoma 20

1996-97 bowl game record: 10-7 (straight); 9-8 (spread)

1996 season record: 206-58 (straight); 123-127-7 (spread)

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