* Often, during his Monday press conference, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald would spice his comments about a player or a position group with the word "fun" or the phrase "enjoy the moment" or the exhortation to "have some fun." This all seemed counter-intuitive just days before his team's Saturday season opener in the hostile dome out in Syracuse. But then, near the end of his time on stage, that all made sense when he offered up this. "We've been practicing now since January in some way, shape or form," he offered up, "either in the weight room, or conditioning, or spring ball. Then the guys worked their tails off this summer, we feel strong our our chemistry, then through the grind of camp. So I'm looking forward to going and playing. I'll know a lot more (about his team) next Monday. It's kind of like waiting for your baby to be born. 'Hey. It's got ears. It's got a nose.' So here we go. Let's see what we look like."
"I'm excited to hit something other than black jerseys (which the 'Cat defense wears in practice). So it'll really be exciting," offensive guard Brian Mulroe later echoed with a smile on his face. "But it's Monday, so we've got to slowly take it day by day. Don't get too excited. Don't peak right now because we don't play until Saturday. But it's crazy. It's crazy. Since January we've been working, we've been working on building our chemistry. I think we've really done a good job of that. Tons of guys are leaders on this team. So, yeah. I'm excited. I can't believe it's here. It flew by."
* Game week, finally, is here for the 'Cats, which means Fitzgerald rolled out a two-deep depth chart for the first time. Some of its notable revelations:
* Venric Mark as the starting tailback backed up by Mike Trumpy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game last fall ("I think Michael is all the way back," Fitzgerald said of the latter. When asked how the former earned the starting role, he said, "By what he's done. He's been very consistent. He's gone out and been really solid in the run game. He's been outstanding in his approach to the daily grind of that position. He's been solid in his protection. Obviously, with his skill set, he can catch the ball.").
* Redshirt freshman Nick VanHoose as one starting corner backed up by the Stanford transfer Quinn Evans.
True freshman Dan Vitale as the starting superback backed up by redshirt freshman Mark Szott ("He's probably been our most-consistent superback," Fitzgerald said of Vitale. "We told the whole group, 'This job is wide open after Drake Dunsmore graduated. Whoever seizes the role through consistency on a day-to-day basis is going to have it.' Now. Am I ready to say Danny is Drake. No. But he's earned the right to go out there first and I look forward to watching him play.")
* True freshman Dean Lowry as a backup defensive end behind returning starter Quentin Williams
* Fifth-year senior Chuck Porcelli as the starting right guard and converted superback Jack Konopka as the starting right tackle ("Chuck just really stayed the course. His opportunity is now," Fitzgerald said of the former. "He can play a lot of positions for us. He has great knowledge of what we're doing offensively. I think he's really going to help Jack in his first full-time role on the offensive line ... Chuck's been around forever. So I'm excited for Chuck. He's stayed the course.")
* The rest of the 'Cat offensive line features returning-starter Brandon Vitabile at center and the hugely-experienced Mulroe and Pat Ward at (respectively) left guard and left tackle. But Porcelli, through most of his time as a 'Cat, labored at tackle. And Konopka, as noted, spent his one season as a 'Cat at superback and then labored through spring practice at guard. Both, then are relatively new to their slots, which is why we later asked Mulroe if his group can function as a unit since it has spent little time working together as currently comprised. "Maybe not all five of us (have worked together)," he said. "But, through rotations, we've all been in there at one time or another. As an offensive lineman, you know you're going to have a rotation, so sometimes I won't be in there next to Pat and Brandon. So you've got to play with anyone and adapt to it. But I think we're really jelling as one unit right now ... It's very important, and gradually I think we're going to start getting that."
As the more experienced of the two guards, has he been working with Porcelli?
"Chuck, he's been a tackle here for years now," Mulroe said. "So we've been watching film together, I've been telling him little tendencies he can pick up. Playing a whole new position, it's kind of overwhelming. So I just tell him, 'Just relax, just play fast, coach will coach everything up and I'll try to help you along the way.' He's doing a really good job."
* Fitzgerald, like many coaches, is (understandably) not the biggest fan of depth charts. He would prefer listing the players at each position alphabetically (which he does through the spring). But, referring to the one he released Monday, he noted, "These guys have earned their roles. You kind of start your season with what we've got here on paper. But it's not limited. By government mandate, I've got to list the two-deep. I would rather have listed more guys. But I tried to put down the guys who we feel strongly about from the standpoint of what they earned. But this is just the starting point. A guy told me a long time ago back at Carl Sandburg (High School), 'Football's like a horse race. It doesn't matter where you start. It matters how you finish.' That's ingrained in my head. We had some guys finish camp strong, they earned the right to go out there on the two-deep. But it's the start of the season. We'll see how it progresses."
* And finally, on a lighter note: Back in 2009, when the 'Cats last played in Syracuse's Carrier Dome, senior linebacker David Nwabuisi made his first collegiate start. "It was funny," Fitzgerald said Monday when asked what he remembered of that occasion. "I was in the linebacker meeting today and Nwabuisi stunk. He was terrible. So was (senior corner Demetrius) Dugar (who also made his first start that game). You look at some of those guys and go, 'Wow. Howe far they've come.' It's been fun to watch their progression."
"I don't remember it all that well," Nwabuisi himself would later say when asked his memories of playing in that dome. "I guess it's kind of warm in there. I kind of remember that. But like Coach Fitz said, I sucked. So I don't really remember what it felt like per se. But I'm excited to go back there."