The powers that be would love for Syracuse football to catch on in popularity that could compare with national champion Florida State, big-time power Clemson and other college-crazy environments in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maybe someday. Not today.
At the annual spring game that closes this off-season segment of college football practices, a couple thousand folks took advantage of free admission at the Carrier Dome to take the temperature of the Orange squad that finished last season 7-6 after winning a thrilling final game at home vs. Boston College and then beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl.
Some players are gone, with hopes for an NFL career. Some are gone, with hopes for a working career. New players are stepping up. Interesting time, it is.
The line of cars being directed into the below-the-dome parking lots made it look like the crowd would be bigger than it was. But that’s the way I’ve felt every Syracuse home game the past five seasons. The atmosphere buzzes pretty good outside the stadium. Inside, not always so much.
Second-year coach Scott Shafer grabbed a microphone shortly after the team burst out of the locker room and laid down his philosophy for what will make Orange games great.
No wonder it seems as if his players will run through walls for this man.
Shafer told of how they’re going to lock the doors on game day next season and put visiting teams through 60 minutes of hard-nosed football pain, Syracuse style.
He enthused about the team’s philosophy of next-man up. When a player gets injured, his replacement is prepared, psyched and eager to step in and lay a hurt on the opposition.
Shafer called for a next-fan up extension.
He told all in attendance to find the neighbor, the kid in class, anybody in the community who’s ignoring the Orange football team, and talk them into coming to the Carrier Dome. He said this place is going to be something to experience.
“I’m in!” I shouted. Really. Oh, wait, my dear wife Karen and I already have season tickets.
Shafer said that he’s going to buy a second ticket for anybody who buys one for his team’s opening game against Villanova.
The Syracuse marketing team was prepared for Shafer’s benevolence.
The buy-one-get-one offer for that Aug. 29 game against the one-rung-down Wildcats was trailed along the ribbon scoreboard that winds around the entire Carrier Dome.
Perhaps it’s what happened to me at the big daily last year and the challenging economy, but the name they’ve pinned on this promotion gave me a slight shiver.
“Coach Shafer Buyout,” the sign said.
The spring game proceeded with an impressively complicated scoring system that pitted the offense against the defense. These affairs tend to get loopy. Coaches want to see their players do well. They do not want to see them get injured. They do not put any fancy-dan plays into the game because they just know opposing teams will get a tape of the scrimmage. (Yes, the game was televised by Time Warner Sports.) And, when a defender puts a hand on the quarterback, the official blows the play dead.
The offense won on the scoreboard.
The offense really won in my eyes.
Starting quarterback Terrel Hunt was sharp, directing a drive for a field-goal on the first possession of the scrimmage. Backups Mitch Kimble and Austin Wilson led the offense to touchdowns. All three of those QBs looked capable and at least mildly confident. A.J. Long, a freshman who enrolled at the university in January so he could participate in spring practice and this scrimmage in hopes of learning the system more quickly and compete for playing time, was not as successful. It looked to me as if Long had a hitch in his throwing motion.
Running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley, Devante McFarland and George Morris II all had at least a couple of successful runs.
Brisley Estime was the fastest receiver and biggest yard-gainer. Jeremiah Kobena had several long gains.
Of course, the flip side is that the offense was moving the ball against the Syracuse defense.
The secondary in particular seemed to have a hard time sticking with their coverage. Worse yet, they allowed several long gains after the catch.
I do not wish for the end of August to come too quickly. There’s much to be done in May, June and July.
Come that Friday night game against Villanova, though, I’ll be ready for the 2014 Orange squad to run out of the locker room as guards lock the door so Villanova can’t escape.
What college football team do you follow? Have you ever gone to a spring football game?