Donovan McNabb never expected to start a game for Syracuse this season, let alone star in the most lopsided bowl victory in school history.
McNabb, who won an intense three-way preseason battle to become Syracuse's quarterback, passed for three touchdowns and ran for another Monday as the Orangemen pounded No. 23 Clemson, 41-0, before 67,940 in the Gator Bowl.
"I was just trying to be chosen for the first game against North Carolina," said McNabb, the game's most valuable player. "I went out and tried to do what I was capable of doing."
McNabb completed 10 of 16 passes for 120 yards in Syracuse's 20-9 opening-game victory.
"All season long, I continued to get better and we put it all together in the bowl game," McNabb said.
In handing the Tigers (8-4) their worst postseason loss, Syracuse (9-3) ran its record to 8-0-1 in its last nine postseason games.
McNabb, continually slipping defenders, waved receivers into position and completed six of seven passes for 108 yards in a first quarter that produced a Gator Bowl record 20 points.
McNabb left the game one play into the fourth quarter after passing for 309 yards, tying Marvin Graves' school record in the 1992 Hall of Fame Bowl. His three touchdown passes set a school bowl record.
Malcolm Thomas scored two touchdowns, and Marvin Harrison had seven catches for 173 yards, including scoring plays of 38 and 56 yards.
"It came so easy to us, especially in the first quarter," Syracuse guard Cy Ellsworth said. "It broke their spirits, you could see it in their eyes and, in my opinion, they gave up."
Said Syracuse Coach Paul Pasqualoni: "Some people felt we were in this game by default. We showed we were worthy of it."
Clemson, which began the game as the nation's fourth-best rushing team at 259 yards a game, had 94 yards against Syracuse.
"We thought we were prepared and focused, but they came out so quick," Clemson safety Brian Dawkins said. "I think [McNabb's] scrambling ability made our job harder."