The SU football team saw a National Champion in action, up close, on November 16th, 2013.
The Orange, coming off two straight wins over ACC opponents at the time, went to Tallahassee to take on the undefeated and #2 ranked Florida State Seminoles.
As many expected, it wasn't a contest, as the Seminoles rolled the Orange 59-3. In that game, eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston completed 19-21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
But, at the same time, as with any loss, it served as a learning experience. The Orange was able to see what a National Champion/perennial BCS contender looked like.
"There's not one team that was better than
them last year," Syracuse tackle Sean Hickey said Sunday at the ACC Kickoff. "The gap is significant. They are basically NFL players across the board at every position. So yeah, they're ahead."
For the Orange, the goal is to close that gap. From the coaching staff to the athletes to the administration, they admit the gap won't be closed overnight. The team's three bowl wins in the last four years is a step in that direction, as they also work to erase the national stigma created by their poor records in the mid-2000s. The Orange went 1-10 overall and 0-7 in conference in the year 2005, their only victory coming over Buffalo. In 2006, SU went 4-8, but once again just 1-6 in the Big East. Following that brief push, a season of two wins in 2007, followed by a three-win season in 2008 ended the Greg Robinson era.
"I feel the things Syracuse has to overcome is that there is this persona or this image from the mid-2000s that's still kind of hanging around, when we were like a 1-and-11 team or like won three games, four games, and that kind of -- I think that view is still hanging around even though we've won three bowl games in the last four years. It's still --people sometimes when they hear Syracuse they think of that, and I think recruits think of that, too, because they were growing up in that time when Syracuse -- when they were starting to get introduced to football, Syracuse was like a 2-and-10 team," Hickey says.
But, in 2009, Doug Marrone brought in a new attitude, one that's continued under Scott Shafer. Because of that attitude, the gap that was once at its widest is closing. In Marrone's first season, the team went 4-8, but after just one season, SU reversed that record, going 8-4 including an unlikely win over Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl. As mentioned, since then, SU has won three bowl games in four seasons, meaning they've been above .500 in those years. A run like that was unheard of back in the mid-2000s, but a winning record and bowl game is now expected.
"It's about us making the key point of the season and winning back to back to back of winning bowl games, of having winning records, of improving and getting better, that's going to eventually bring more guys in. Keep working hard like we always have, bring more guys in, eventually try to slowly close that gap. But that's really what we have to keep winning, and hopefully in years to come that gap slowly closes," Hickey says.
In 2014, those wins and improvement have indeed 'brought guys in' as Hickey says. The recruiting Class of 2015 found itself surging early on in the summer, with more than 20 commitments by early July. Compare that to late June of 2013, when the Orange had just a handful of recruits. Recruits say they like the 'family' atmosphere Scott Shafer and his staff have created at SU, which is bringing in more talents. Syracuse senior linebacker Cameron Lynch is one of those recruits who saw the improvement under Coach Marrone, and has continued that in his tenure with the Orange. He says the talent is getting better, enough to compete with the other teams in the ACC.
"Getting these guys from the South and matching the speed of Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson...getting the same talent is huge," Lynch says. "I'm glad to be part of that wave, coming to Syracuse and not getting recruited by those other schools and showing them that even though you're undersized you still have great tangibles and great things to offer. I'm excited for what Syracuse can do in the future."
In the near future, the Orange will see if they are able to 'close the gap' a little more as they host those same Seminoles, complete with Heisman Winner Jameis Winston, in the Carrier Dome on October 11th.