Wow. After months of up and down play and expectations, this Syracuse team managed to finish with a winning record. No one would claim it was easy, but in the end, the reward for sticking with this Orange squad was worth it: Two straight thrilling wins, hope for the future and program progression. We'll be looking back at the 2013 football season fondly.
As has been 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...
Winning a bowl game could mean a lot of things. What does this Texas Bowl triumph mean for SU?
Sean Farrell: Well, the win means a few things. Scott Shafer can boast to recruits that Syracuse has won three bowl games in four years. Not many coaches in the country can use that talking point. A lot of people speculated that the game being in Texas could help bring in players from that region, but I don’t really see it. Syracuse doesn’t recruit very much in that area. In fact, Drew Allen is the only Texas native that has played for the Orange in the past several years. Ultimately, the month-long break of practices (including a few days after school wasn’t in session) particularly helped Terrel Hunt and the team. His timing was much better and it’s a testament to the work and preparation he put in. That’s an opportunity that every coach wants.
Matt McClusky: Consistency - three bowl victories in four years isn't a fluke, it's a formula for success.
Dan Lyons: I think we can officially say that the year in, year out expectation is for this program to make a bowl game.That really hasn't been the case since around 2001 or so, and I think we're back there. Three bowl games in four years doesn't sound like much to the average fan, but as we always harp on, considering the very recent past, this is a great development for the program.
Sean Keeley: That we're on the road to consistency. I know there have been some SU fans calling for 10 wins next year but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, the goal of SU football is to continue stringing together winning seasons. Yes, we want to grow and build every year, but its just important that we keep winning, going to bowl games and change the perception of the program from a mediocre one to a quality one.
John Cassillo: I think it finally buries the GERG era in the eyes of everyone outside of Syracuse. Now, we've won three bowl games in four years. We haven't won less than five games in a single season since 2009. It was a topic of discussion all season, and now it's been put to rest. Syracuse football is respectable once again -- even to those who don't follow the team on a daily basis.
Terrel Hunt's our starter for next season, right? Getting harder to think otherwise.
SF: Yes and no – in my game recap, I almost wrote that Hunt’s performance solidified him as the starter for 2014. But, I thought about it and then decided against writing it. It’s implied, right? I don’t need to state the obvious. After all, Hunt has made great strides over the past month and keeping him at the helm keeps a sense of consistency that three quarterbacks in three years wouldn’t. Besides, essentially all of his receiving corp is coming back, minus Christopher Clark. However, it’s Syracuse we’re talking about. Nothing is guaranteed, much less something that is over eight months away. Just think, in only the span of a month-or-so, Drew Allen went from to the anointed savior to fighting the starting job to eventual starter to backup.
MM: Terrel Hunt is the penciled in starter for the next two seasons, there is no question about it. His play has evolved and he looks like a real leader now. He may get some competition in August, but it will ultimately not matter -- assuming Hunt stays healthy.
DL: I don't think he should or will be handed the job, but he's definitely the prohibitive favorite unless something wild happens. I really like some of the young QBs that we have on campus or who are enrolling over the next few months, but Hunt has really come a long way since the Clemson game. The one thing he has had throughout, even when he wasn't playing well, is poise. He never looks rattled, he doesn't make too many awful mistakes, and he looks incredible comfortable in high leverage situations
SK: You never know with this kind of stuff. In 2008, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Andrew Robinson was on his to another solid season at the helm for the Orange. Then, for reasons that remain unclear, he just kinda lost his mojo and The Cam Dantley Era began. Just like that. Right now, I find it hard to believe anyone will unseat Terrel Hunt now that he's established himself. But…you never know...
JC: Hunt's earned himself the right to start 2014 under center, in my eyes. Yes, I know we have some talent coming in at the quarterback position, but two straight late drives to earn bowl eligibility and then win said bowl are already quite impressive. In year one as a starter, he's already accomplished more than most recent Orange passers. I'm excited to see what happens next and I hope Shafer outwardly endorses him well before next August.
Which departing senior will you miss the most next season?
SF: I’ll go two ways with this one: Marquis Spruill and Macky MacPherson. (On a personal level, Spruill was in my freshman Max 123 class, the first college course I was ever in…so I’m biased.) On the field, Spruill was fun to watch because he could really fly around the field. Even though SU brings back linebackers Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis, I think the team will miss Spruill’s presence in the middle. My second choice is Macky MacPherson because he’s Mr. Syracuse. You could tell how much he loved the school by reading his comments at the end of the season and after the Texas Bowl. Following the team’s loss to Pittsburgh, MacPherson said, "I don't think you're going to see a team work harder than us. This week our backs are against the wall. We're in the corner and it's do or die time." He REALLY did not want his college career to end against Boston College. After the bowl win, he tweeted a picture of himself as a youngster wearing a Syracuse hat, saying his last four years have been a dream come true. So often, we’re told that the world of college sports is a cold business and the "student-athletes" are only out to get a paycheck. It’s refreshing to hear a story like his once in a while.
MM: I'm going to cheat -- which is nothing new here -- and say Jerome Smith. I'm still a little unsure as to why he is leaving early, given how little NFL draft buzz he's conjured up, and it's more than a little disappointing to think about what could have been with him back in the backfield in 2014.
DL: Jay Bromley. His story is really what the Syracuse program as all about, and in my opinion he was one of the 5-10 best interior linemen in the country this year. We're going to miss him, although I think a lot of our young linemen played well this year, especially Eric Crume, who will go a long way towards filling Bromley's role next year. Luckily for Syracuse, there seems to be quality depth behind most of the departing seniors this year.
SK: For on the field reasons, Jerome Smith. I remember when Smith first came to SU as "the other RB" is a recruiting class that included Dom Timbers and Prince-Tyson Gulley, both of whom were rated higher than him. We all know how that turned out. I enjoy watching guys work their way up the roster and eventually becoming stars, and Smith leaves as the latest in a long line of solid Syracuse RBs. For off the field reasons, Ridiculously Good Looking Charley Loeb. Now and forever...
JC: Marquis Spruill or Jay Bromley qualify here, just because of how important they've been to an underrated Syracuse front seven these past few years. We've got depth at those positions, as Dan alluded to above, but those guys have been two of the defenses leaders for a long-time and their locker room contributions are likely to be missed as much as their on-field play.
Have those awful helmets redeemed themselves a bit?
SF: Call me the Grinch, but I still don’t like them even after the bowl win. I’m open to the idea of incorporating both blue and orange into the helmet. My problem is with the way it’s executed, which looks metallic and rather cheap in my opinion.
MM: No. Listen, the change-up helmet is cool for short periods, but Syracuse just looks like Syracuse with orange on top. Really, those blue-ish orange-ish helmets look like someone rushed them through production, or, even worse, it looks like Syracuse ripped off the Jacksonville Jaguars!
DL: I never hated the helmets as much as others did. I still don't know why they went with primarily blue helmets and blue pants without an orange jersey, but the mysteries of Nike design decisions are far reaching.
SK: Eh. You'll never truly get me on board with a predominantly-blue Syracuse uniform. Those helmets don't bother me too much but they feel very much of this specific time. I feel like they'll be considered very passé soon.
JC: Nope. Still hate them, and it really irked me that both Syracuse and Minnesota didn't look like themselves in that game. Redesign them with orange as the primary color? Then maybe we're getting somewhere. Otherwise, scrap these ASAP.
Do you think the Orange are better off with Scott Shafer as head coach than they would have been with Doug Marrone this season?
SF: Good question. It’s hard to say in hindsight. Shafer got Syracuse to the bowl game, but he did so with the players Marrone recruited so it’s tricky to determine who deserves the credit. With Marrone staying, it would have also meant a different offensive coordinator and coaching staff. It probably also would have meant Zach Allen and other recruits would have chosen Syracuse. In the short term, yes, it probably would have had a small benefit. But in the long term, I like having Scott Shafer because there is more stability around the program. I like not worrying about who will be the head coach next year. We all know Marrone said coaching SU was his dream job. But Shafer has said the Syracuse job affects not only him, but his wife and kids. Staying at Syracuse gives some stability to his family, who has had to move all over the country. That’s why I believe he will actually stay around for a while.
MM: Whoa, tough question. Here's betting Syracuse would have been better off with Marrone because it was Marrone's team to begin with. Shafer showed a ton of promise this year, but he was still on a wicked learning curve most of the season, which most certainly hurt the Orange in games. However, long term, Marrone evidently wasn't destined for Central New York, the NFL was calling even before GMs actually gave him a buzz. So, yeah, Marrone, and him entire compliment of assistants that left for Buffalo with him, would have done better than Shafer. But Shafer is a better fit for Syracuse University.
DL: That's really tough to say. I'll err towards 'no' for a one year outlook, since I think the Hackett/Marrone system would have been far more effective in early games, and SU could have probably won Penn State and/or Pitt with a more cogent offensive philosophy. Going forward, I think the fact that Syracuse was able to win 7 games when it was going through about as much transition as possible between a new quarterback, coaching staff, and conference, it speaks well for Syracuse under Shafer in the future. I also doubt that Shafer looks to jump to the NFL, and while there is always the chance that a big school poaches him, it probably means he has accomplished so very good things along the way.
SK: My gut tells me this team wins one more game with Marrone at the helm than it did with Shafer. Simply because having Marrone means we have a well-oiled coaching machine in place to keep working on last year's success. We spent a lot of this season watching Shafer, George McDonald and Chuck Bullough learn on the job, just like we did in Marrone's first couple seasons. With last year's coaching staff in place, I think we win either the Penn State game or the Pitt game. And no way DC Scott Shafer loses to Georgia Tech like that...
JC: I actually think so. This team loves Shafer in a way that I don't think they ever loved Marrone. Our most notable alums all love him too. Sure, there was some learning on the job, but when the going got tough, this squad rallied around Shafer's energy. That's not to discredit what Marrone did to revitalize this program. It's just pointing out that players are willing to run through a brick wall for Shafer (and did, especially in the season's last two games), and I just don't think things turn out similarly with Marrone at the helm since he didn't inspire that sort of faith.
Quick look at the 2014 slate: What's the ceiling for Syracuse?
SF: An 8-4 record and another third place finish in the Atlantic Division is my best case scenario for Syracuse. The Orange face Florida State and Clemson again, which almost promises to be a pair of losses. Throw in games against Notre Dame – who gets back Everett Golson – as well as Duke and Louisville. It’s not going to be an easy in-conference slate. But, I like to be an optimist. After all, I was the one (HUMBLE BRAG) who thought the 2013 team was capable of getting to six wins unlike some of you @disloyal idiots@.
MM: Well, 6 wins is probably the basement with 8 and maybe 9 wins as the ceiling. Which is exactly what Syracuse football is: a 6 to 8/9 win program at its usual, 10 or more on the most rare occasions. It's nice to see things back to normal, even if they don't always feel that way (0-2 starts; sweating out bowl invites; etc).
DL: Just roughly looking at the schedule, the only game that strikes me as absolutely unwinnable is Florida State. Clemson on the road is tough, but they figure to take a step back next year. Louisville is very good, but Teddy Bridgewater is almost definitely going to be entering the draft, and Syracuse beat them with him recently. Notre Dame is just not that great, although the return of Everett Golson makes that game tougher. SU should aim for at least 3-1 in the nonconference slate, and I don't think an eight win regular season is a crazy thought. The ceiling? Nine is probably pushing it, but after the weekend we just had as Syracuse fans, I think we're allowed to dream big dreams for a little while.
SK: All in all, a very easy non-conference schedule. The Orange return a lot of key talent, especially on offense, and I see no reason we're not 3-0 headed into the Notre Dame game. Accounting for losses to Clemson and FSU, I'd put the early ceiling at nine wins for the 2014 Orange. But, as we all know, a lot changes between now and September. And then between September and October. And so on...
JC: And this is where I get ahead of myself. My best friend from SU and I were discussing this a few weeks ago and we could legitimately see eight wins on the schedule -- which is almost scary. But as we've discussed, the middle of the ACC is a crapshoot and there's no team outside of FSU and Clemson that really scares me too much. I will note that next year's Duke game is going to suck, however. If you watched them dice up Texas A&M for most of last night, you'll probably agree.