Syracuse University football coach Doug Marrone was happy to be home for Christmas.
Marrone, a native of the Bronx, looked about as giddy as he ever has in his four-year tenure as the Orange head coach during the introductory press conference of Saturdays New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
The game, which will pit Syracuse against its former Big East rival, West Virginia (7-5 overall), is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
Its one of those things, you do these press conferences, but I am jacked up about this. I mean I truly am excited about being here, Marrone said.
And why he shouldnt he be?
After last seasons well-documented collapse losing five straight games to end the season a game under .500 and not be eligible for a bowl the SU alum has his program back on track.
Syracuse went 7-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East to earn a share of its fifth conference championship in its final season before moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Orange did so by reversing last seasons tailspin. Marrones club went 5-1 in its last six games, making it one of just two FBS teams to start the season 2-4 and finish with at least seven wins.
In its last six games compared with the first six, Syracuse averaged an additional 13 points per game and 55.8 total yards per game. It finished with 10 less turnovers and nine more takeaways, while increasing its third-down conversion rate by 10 percent and its red-zone scoring rate by 22 percent.
In addition, the Orange offense broke nine single-season records.
The result is Syracuses second appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl in three years. The program snapped a six-year bowl drought in 2010 by reaching, and winning, the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
And for Marrone, the excitement extends beyond having his team back in a bowl game.
Before arriving in Syracuse to play on the Oranges offensive line, Marrone attended Herbert H. Lehman High School, about a 10-minute drive from Yankee Stadium. He was a classmate of the Yankees YES Network broadcaster, Michael Kay.
Marrone is a life-long Yankees fan and his grandfather worked as an usher at the old Yankee Stadium for over 20 years.
I think I may be the most excited person coming back, Marrone said. Brings back times where I remember my grandfather, and its very nostalgic for me to be here.
And when its over, Marrone can remain upbeat about the direction his program is headed, not just because of the on-field improvement but because he has instilled discipline academically and in the community.
He suspended two players for Saturdays game for a violation of team rules Goal-line back Adonis Ameen-Moore and reserve tight end Max Beaulieu and announced that he will sit starting linebacker Marquis Spruill for a significant portion, after an arrest on misdemeanor charges on Dec. 2.
Syracuse was honored with the American Football Coaches Association Academic All-Achievement Honorable Mention Award, after being one of 47 institutions to graduate at least 75 percent of its football student athletes.
The face of this years team, fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, was selected as an NFF National Scholar-Athlete, and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented to the absolute best scholar-athlete in college football.
Nassib, center Macky MacPherson and long snapper Sam Rodgers earned 2012 Capital One All-District recognition for their work academically, in the community and on the field.