Orange Watch: New Syracuse quarterback, new offensive play caller, HUGE challenge

Item: Just in time to welcome the nation’s No. 1 team inside the friendly confines of the Dome, now might be a great time to “Lock The Gate” and post a ‘No Trespassing’ sign when the Florida State team buses pull up on Irving Ave., and prevent the Seminoles from getting inside the building.

In all seriousness, there will be college football history made within the Dome on Saturday (12:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) as Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) welcomes ACC monster Florida State (5-0, 3-0), with the Seminoles just the fourth No. 1 team to play on the SU campus (Nebraska-1984, Miami-1992, Miami-2002) since the modern ranking system was established in 1938.

Day dreaming about a Nebraska repeat from ‘84?

WilsonQB1

Sophomore QB Austin Wilson takes over for the injured Terrel Hunt vs. No. 1 Florida State Saturday

The Orangemen, off a 19-0 Dome loss to Rutgers the week before, absolutely stunned the unanimous No. 1 Cornhuskers 17-9. From the opening kickoff, when the tone was set by the ‘Cuse special teams knocking Cornhuskers fullback, and future nine year NFL standout, Tom Rathman, one of the Huskers toughest players, out cold, it was going to be an Orange afternoon. It was also simply a one-of-a-kind magic day for the SU quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Todd Norley (1982-85) and Mike Siano (1982-85), who hooked up on a beautiful 40 yard scoring strike in the third quarter that had the crowd of 47,280 believing an unfathomable upset was possible.

Was Nebraska overlooking the 2-1 Orangemen after pasting SU 63-7 the year before in Lincoln? Perhaps, but that was an intersectional game, and Florida State-Syracuse is a conference matchup, and even though FSU won last year by a similar 59-3 romp, there’s likely little worries about a look ahead to a Notre Dame showdown of expected unbeaten teams the following week (the Irish host 2-3 North Carolina Saturday). `

» Related: What we learned from Syracuse’s loss to Louisville

Maybe some Karma from Miami in 1992, a game between No. 1 and No. 7/8 that the Syracuse Post Standard labeled, “the biggest sporting event in the history of central New York?”

That result ended up three yards short in a 16-10 loss to UM, with tight end and current Orange athletic department staff member and radio broadcast color commentator, Chris Gedney (1989-1992), tackled oh so close to the goal line on a 29 yard pass play as time expired, which if it had happened, would have created a noise level that would have threatened the Dome roof’s Teflon core.

Then again, the great ‘92 team scarcely resembles this year’s squad, as it went on to beat Colorado 26-22 in an amazing Fiesta Bowl game, and it’s the last season the program finished in the Top Ten (6/7).

With Monday morning’s official announcements revolving around this year’s team that Terrel Hunt is essentially done for the season with a broken fibula, and Tim Lester is replacing George McDonald as the offensive coordinator and assuming the lead play calling role, history will be squarely in the background Saturday and all eyes instead intently focused on who takes the snaps at quarterback among the trio of sophomores Austin Wilson and Mitch Kimble and true freshman AJ Long, and for how long, facing a fast and relentless Seminoles defense, and how Lester’s baptism fares, which only happens to be against the nation’s top-ranked team. No worries, right?

“We are committed and unified to take the actions necessary to maximize the talent and drive of this football team,” Scott Shafer said in announcing a move that certainly wasn’t earth shaking despite its in-season timeframe given the offensive scoring woes, expanding Lester’s role as the quarterbacks coach and continued development of inexperience at the position behind Hunt, while demoting his longtime coaching sidekick McDonald who came to Syracuse from Arkansas in 2013 after only one month as wide receivers coach with then-new Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema, released from his contract because his new Orange coordinator title usurped his position coach role at Arkansas.

As to which quarterback Lester will be directing Saturday, logic would seemingly point to Wilson who’s attempted 20 passes in games against Villanova and Louisville, although Kimble (zero experience, strong arm) and/or Long (zero experience, a sturdy arm, great feet) are not likely too far behind, as is a potential two player rotation.

The Dome record for points scored by one team is 70 by Syracuse in its Donovan McNabb-directed 70-14 blitz of Rutgers in 1998, featuring an Orange offense that resembled an out-of-control video game racing up and down the field, and included 42 points scored by halftime. After FSU put up 59 on the Orange a year ago, is that mark in jeopardy indoors Saturday?

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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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