Sure, you know Syracuse is going to the Texas Bowl to face Minnesota. But what does that mean? And what could it mean for this program? And why are we asking you guys all these questions?
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...
Syracuse is headed to the Texas Bowl! How do you feel about that?
The Invisible Swordsman: I feel fantastic. Like, Ivan Foy touchdown dance fantastic! Good opponent, good location. Whoever worked this one should be congratulated -- looking at you Sean Keeley, Mr. "Followed on Twitter by the Texas Bowl committee!"
Matt McClusky: Syracuse is pretty lucky, really. The Orange were a bland 6-6 team with a ton of injuries, and given the last decade or so of football malaise in Central New York, a bowl invite was not at all a given. The fact that it's a decent bowl against, at the very least, an average BCS conference opponent is an icy-on-the-cake situation.
Dan Lyons: I feel great about it. Doctor Gross and the rest of the SUAD team deserve a world of credit for pulling this one out. It seems like there was a real chance that Syracuse could be left out of the whole post-season party, and instead SU grabbed a slot in what is probably the best bowl that was even somewhat feasible against a very solid opponent. Instead of heading to Shreveport or Birmingham, or Detroit in the middle of winter, SU gets to go down to a major city like Houston and play in Reliant Stadium against a team that was in the Top 25 for a few weeks this year. For a 6-6 team that doesn't travel all that well and was six seconds from finishing 5-7, that is an absolute home run of a bowl slot.
Jared Smith: I feel really happy for the team, which if they didn't get into a bowl would have been a travesty. I am especially happy considering NFL Football has not be too kind to me, as the Buffalo Bills have been a huge disappointment. I like football. I like college football. I am glad Syracuse earned its way into the bowl mix and is playing a solid opponent too.
Sean Keeley: If we're honest about bowl games, they're good for three things. Recruiting, extra practices and national exposure. Of the options available to us, I think the Texas Bowl probably does a great job for us in all three areas. Exposure-wise, this game is on ESPN in the late afternoon/early evening, which I'll take all day long. It's a good chance for SU to reach out to Texas recruit possibilities and the Minnesota opponent might help draw interest to us from Midwestern recruits. All in all, pretty happy. Now let's just win the sucker.
John Cassillo: Better than the alternative (Detroit, in particular). Or the other alternative (not going to a bowl game at all). The only drawback on Texas is the attendance issue, but again, better to wonder how you're getting to Houston than sitting around wondering how you missed out on Houston, I suppose.
Early thoughts on our opponents, the Minnesota Golden Gophers?
TIS: The shallow answer to the question is couldn't we get a more exotic team to play... like Iowa State? Playing another B1G team that we played a lot over the past few years isn't very exciting to be honest, but when I peel back the layers of the matchup, I see a few really great things: First, it's a power conference team that went 8-4 and will give Syracuse a chance to play a very solid if unspectacular team. Second, it is a bit of a chance at revenge and perhaps turn the tables on a Minnesota team that played us at the perfect time.
MM: A pretty nice matchup. Sure, last season's rock fight between the two was completely forgettable, but, honestly, who the hell wants to play a North Texas in a bowl game? A Big Ten opponent has more buzz to it and the Gophers are actually a pretty tough team.
DL: They're eerily similar to Syracuse. The Gophers are all about the run, while they somehow have worse raw passing numbers than the Orange do. On defense, they're stout against the run, while vulnerable through the air. Jerry Kill and his staff also deserve a lot of credit for pulling out a very good year despite all of the issues he went through battling epilepsy. No matter what happens later this month, Minnesota is a good story this year, and a very nice opponent for SU.
JS: Honestly, I do not know much about them other than they're led by head coach Jerry Kill, who always seems to be in the news because of his health. I also remember last year's Minnesota game, as maybe the turning point in Ryan Nassib's collegiate career. Nassib stunk in that game tossing two awful interceptions and managed to rebound from that loss and lead SU to one of its best regular season in a decade or so. This year's Minnesota team is a lot different on offense than last year's team, however, Kill somehow has them at 4-4 in the Big Ten and 8-4 overall. This should be a fun match up.
SK: Good team, much better than what we would have gotten in the Heart of Dallas or Beef O'Brady. While I don't think they're going to mop the floor with us, I think they present some solid challenges. Their defense could easily shut down SU's offense if Terrel Hunt can't get out of his own way. Offensively, we'll have options but they're also used to defending physical running teams. We can win but it'll take a solid performance.
JC: Similar team to Syracuse in many ways -- strong up front, solid running game. They're a bit bigger and physical, but otherwise, we do many of the same things the same way. As for their fans, also similar, if you believe it. Continually discounted, always striving to get past outsiders' perceptions, perpetually cold. Yup, all the same. Come hang out with us, Gophers! We mean well. Honest!
What's the most valuable aspect of getting to a bowl game for the Orange?
TIS: Extra practices for the team, and a chance to give a national television audience a performance that isn't cringe-worthy. Oh, you said the most valuable as in singular, right? Practices!
MM: Zero question: three more weeks of practice. I don't think a December 27 bowl game will help recruiting much. And I don't see playing in Texas as some gateway to the talented Lone Star high school players. This is 2013, kids have the Internets with Twitter and what not, if they wanted to know about Syracuse football they would have already Googled it. I do, however, think the extra weeks of practice will be huge for SU, specifically Terrel Hunt at quarterback and George McDonald as his coordinator.
DL: The extra practices are huge. Bowl teams basically get an extra spring practice-worth of time, and many staffs use at least a week to give young players a lot of reps to prepare for the future. For a young team like Syracuse, this is invaluable. Back-to-back bowls in the face of all of the turnover in the program from last season is also big for Syracuse.
JS: The obvious answer is it builds a lot of confidence not only in our young quarterback, Terrel Hunt, who played great against Boston College, but also in the head coach, Scott Shafer, who busted his put this season and did all he can to put a winning product on the field despite a lot of setbacks. I like that Shafer, even when facing a tough schedule, can rally the troops and lead his team to a bowl game. That's impressive to me.
SK: I think it has to be the practices. A really underrated aspect of the whole experience. Really, no one remembers what happens in 95% of bowl games other than the teams that play in the games. But getting a chance to keep the team together, keep them on the field and make them better is invaluable.
JC: Practices are a big plus, but everyone else has covered off on that already. The most valuable aspect for me is a chance to show that this program's on the upswing. Not "back," because (I hate to break it to many SU fans), that's not happening -- not what we saw for much of the late 80s and early 90s, anyway. But at least improved to a point where outsiders can see us as a perennial postseason team that sometimes surprises with a nine-win campaign. Win or lose, we've made two straight bowl games and that's a big step in terms of perception.
The ACC placed 11 teams in bowl games. What does that say about the state of the conference?
TIS: We are top to bottom, the most middle-heavy conference in the nation!
MM: It says that there are too many bowl games. But that's been said for a couple of decades, anyway. I guess the ultimate takeaway is that the ACC is hoovering just above mediocrity -- Florida State is well above the rest of the class and after that there are a lot of average-ish teams. To me, bowl invites don't have the same weight as NCAA tournament invites. In hoops getting a chance to dance says something about that program and that program's conference; in football it's all about who you know and how well you sell. Apparently business is pretty good for ACC football.
DL: The ACC is really a solid league. FSU is the prohibitive favorite to win #allthetostitosroses and Clemson is a top team. I think the league is missing a strong second tier group... Miami fell apart without Duke Johnson and Va Tech and Georgia Tech never really hit the level they needed to, and I don't think the country as a whole believes in Duke, despite their great year. After that though, there are only two really bad teams in the league - UVA and NC State - and NC State is still breaking in a new system. Most of the league is solid if unspectacular, but I don't think a large middle tier is a bad thing considering schools like Syracuse and Boston College look to be on the rise. The ACC isn't the best league in the NCAA by any means, but it certainly fits right there with the other power five conferences, and FSU and Clemson are two programs that stack up with anyone.
JS: Honestly, I do not read much into it. I do find FSU and Duke season's really impressive, however, if you look at the other bowl eligible teams, like Pittsburgh, Maryland and even North Carolina, they're not that impressive if you ask me. Pitt and Maryland's schedules were as soft as any in the nation, while four of UNC's victories came against Middle Tenn. State, Old Dominion, Virginia, NC State. The more I get into college football the more I realize how silly the bowl system is sometimes. I loved how Syracuse was able to claw its way to 6 wins through a pretty difficult slate.
SK: It has a nice ring to it but let's not make it seem better than it is. Most of those bowl teams are mediocre (Syracuse included) and qualified because the bowl system rewards mediocrity, not quality. Instead of bragging about getting 11 teams in bowl games, I'd rather brag about having a national champion and going 2-0 in BCS bowls. That's a lot more legitimate. Bragging about quantity is something that you do when you don't have quality.
JC: You'd be able to thrown shade on this, except for the fact that one of those 11 teams in the BCS National Championship Game. This has been a huge season for the ACC, in that it seemed to legitimize rounds two and three of expansion (FSU was technically round one) all at once. These types of accomplishments don't erase a decade of futility, but they certainly help rewrite that narrative (this should sound familiar to SU fans).
Durell Eskridge sounds like he might go pro after this season? This is upsetting news.
TIS: It is, and I hope he stays to a) help out our team in 2014, and b) improve his draft stock.
MM: If Durell Eskridge does indeed go pro, I think it's a big blow for Syracuse but not a death blow. The Orange were gutted by injuries this season, on both sides of the ball, making them a pretty thin team by the end of November. But those young kids got a lot of run this season and, if fully healthy, Syracuse should be plenty able to fill Eskridge's spot. A drop off in talent to be sure, but a replaceable part.
DL: Once he talks with the coaches and perhaps sends his name to the advisory board, I imagine he'll stay. Durell had a tremendous second half this year, but it's hard to get drafted in a great spot off of six games. However, with his athleticism and ability, if he comes back and puts together an All-ACC-type senior year, I could see him being a third rounder or so. That's worth the extra year, rather than hoping to slip into the third day of the draft.
JS: I think it is upsetting considering he is probably better off getting another year under his belt and that he might be one of those guys that the NFL Draft is his best bet, but, in reality he might not get drafted. Eskridge played well, but he is as replacable as anyone else in that secondary. I wish him luck if he decides to go, but I am not recommending it.
SK: Those types of decisions don't surprise me so if he does go, he will be missed but we'll just have to move forward. Syracuse is starting to develop secondary players better and better, but the real key is building up the reserve so the "next man up" doesn't see a drop-off in production.
JC: Please don't, Durell? It's not always apparent, but I do think he's a big part of what could be an improved secondary next season. If he's gone, it won't be the death of this squad. Thought it certainly doesn't help matters next year either.
How do we like Florida State's chances of winning the BCS National Championship?
TIS: I think the SEC's domination of the BCS championship stops right now.
MM: I'm really excited to see the Noles and Tigers go at in Cali. It's like the opposite feeling I had thinking about Ohio State vs...anyone! I'm guessing it'll be high scoring and it should be tight throughout, a great way to cap off the season. (A rather poor way to send off the BCS, though. The most fitting tribute? Four teams laying claim to the title.) As for the winner? I'm not totally sure yet, as we have what feels like six months before kickoff, but my gut says go with the team that has the best player. And that's Florida State and Jameis Winston.
DL: I'd like them a lot better if Auburn hadn't sold it's soul to whatever deity made the Georgia and Alabama games happen.
JS: Very good. This FSU team is outstanding and if they beat Auburn, which I think they will, they could go down as one of the most dominating teams in the BCS era. This team was flat out unstoppable. Sure, maybe, showdown against Alabama would have been the true No. 1 vs. No. 2, but this game is going to feature A LOT of scoring and should be a blast to watch.
SK: Very much. Bias aside, I'd be surprised if they don't win. I know Auburn's got the whole team of destiny thing going on, but I'm not going to bet against Jamies Winston and that FSU offense anytime soon. Sure, they haven't been tested very often, but then again, they're also THAT good.
JC: I'LL TAKE THAT ONE-14TH OF A NATIONAL TITLE, PAWWLLLL! A-C-C! A-C-C!
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