Orange Watch: For Syracuse football, no time like present for ‘national relevancy’

Item: Much as been made, for which the comments were intended to do exactly that, concerning the outward proclamations of his football program’s quest for national recognition, uttered last week by Orange AD Daryl Gross.

With a top 10 FBS strength of schedule ranking, virtually every week of the season for a Syracuse football program lodged in the ACC Atlantic Division (Florida State, Clemson) is going to provide an opportunity to raise eyebrows with an upset victory, and continue to create the path towards national relevancy, which was the rightful theme that Gross delivered last week during one of his scheduled broadcast appearances on ESPN Syracuse.

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Syracuse, which plays on ABC prime time Saturday, hasn’t defeated a Top Ten team since 2002

When you’re in charge of the department’s long term vision, fundraising, marketing, student-athletes academic and societal welfare, and ultimately athletic success, on the playing field there’s no doubt the defined, spotlighted goal is returning Orange football to the Top 25 polls, annual conference title contention, and playing in the biggest of bowl games.

Now, after a disappointing performance in the season’s first defeat to Maryland, the AD’s vision of scheduling games at MetLife Stadium against nationally-recognized opponents provides Scott Shafer and the players a quick turnaround to make everyone (almost) forget the Dome defeat to the Terps with this week’s matchup against 3-0 and now-No. 8 Notre Dame (8:00 ET / ABC).

“It’s like a mini bowl game in the middle of the season,” Gross said in his radio interview describing Saturday night’s next challenge on the tough schedule. “So to say that it’s not important is an understatement.”

» Related: Syracuse makes too many mistakes in loss to Maryland

The Orange players certainly realize the value of the exposure. In the short news cycle world we live in, there’s little time to reflect backwards.

“The greatest thing about this sport is that we have next week,” senior safety Darius Kelly, who had six solo tackles and an interception, said after the loss to UM. “We’re on primetime on ABC. But we have to concentrate this week, and now we’re going to look at it as an opportunity to step on the field against a top team in the nation. We’re going to take it as full speed as we can.”

Ironically, team speed is the one area that the Orange program needs to keep stockpiling as it maneuvers down the ACC tightrope; after all, SU’s southern school counterparts recruit it constantly in their own backyards. Maryland, picked to finish in the bottom half of their Big Ten division, played fast last weekend, and Notre Dame, with marquee senior quarterback Everett Golson who’s already accounted for 11 touchdowns and is averaging 260 yards passing a game, will do the same this week on MetLife Stadium’s speedy playing surface.

With all the early season talk about a rare 3-0 start evaporated by last week’s defeat, it’s also worth noting that it’s been 12 seasons since the Orange knocked off a Top Ten team, 2002’s wild, triple OT thriller over No. 7 Virginia Tech 50-42 in the Dome, so the timing for a potential breakthrough program upset couldn’t be better.

“We’ve been there (playing big games in exclusive nationally televised windows),” said linebacker Cam Lynch, enjoying a stellar senior season so far with a team-high 30 tackles and four and a half sacks. “We beat Louisville here, we beat West Virginia here (both Friday night national telecasts in 2012). We play big teams at MetLife, it won’t be a shock to us. If we go out there and execute, get the quarterback (Golson) and play assignment football, we’ll do well.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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