Orange Watch: With FSU in the way, Syracuse football has an entrenched monster to slay

FSU went 10-3 in 2015

Item: As if there was any doubt, they easily won the Orange Bowl just last season, Florida State football is back to its dominant ways, and that spells trouble for division-mate Syracuse. 

Daryl Gross’s mantra from day one has been to dream big.

Jimbo Fisher and FSU are the class of the ACC

Big as in national championship big, the ultimate competitive success for the 18 Syracuse men’s and women’s sports programs he oversees, coming off a university-best Top 40 finish in the NACDA Directors’ Cup standings in 2012-13 while on route to stepping up to ACC competition this school year.

While several Orange programs enjoyed either their best seasons ever or found themselves in their customary spot deep in NCAA Tournament play in Gross’ eighth year in charge, for the football team to move the ball downfield towards his ultimate dream in the upcoming “College Football Playoff,” it would most likely have to first play in the ACC Championship game as the Atlantic Division winner versus its Coastal counterpart.

» Related: What we learned from SU’s most recent loss

With Florida State a permanent division foe, that’s a long term obstacle to be the Atlantic representative in the conference title game.

We could certainly talk about the Alabama defense (only 16 combined points allowed in the last five games) or Oregon offense (averaging an eye-popping 57.5 points per game) representing the top teams from the season’s inception, but didn’t the FSU squad that just completely outclassed Clemson on the Tigers loud home turf look like the best team in the country this past Saturday night?

If the Orange surrendered 56 points to Georgia Tech this past weekend and was down four scores to Clemson at halftime in the Dome Oct. 5, what’s a defense to do against sudden Heisman Trophy front runner “Famous” Jameis Winston, who just expertly orchestrated a 51 point barrage against the then-No. 3 ranked team, when the ‘Cuse visits Tallahassee on Nov. 19?

The instant answer is to step up to the challenge aiming for a minimum six win season and a shot at back-to-back bowl campaigns for the first time since 1998-99, long term it’s keeping the southern recruiting pipeline in full mode, adding more and more speed to compete with ACC talent, along with the core recruiting bases in the northeast and now spreading westward to Chicago.

Since debuting in grand fashion Labor Day evening while simultaniously ruining Pittsburgh’s ACC inaugural game, ‘Noles redshirt freshman QB Winston has been better than advertised in succeeding Buffalo Bills first round draft choice EJ Manuel.

» Related: Orange blown out by Georgia Tech

The two-sport standout as a pitcher/outfielder on the FSU baseball team (drafted by the MLB’s Texas Rangers in 2012) is looking to replicate the accomplishments of Charlie Ward in 1993, and Chris Weinke in 1999, FSU quarterbacks that led their team to a national championship while also winning the Heisman, and Winston certainly played the part in a rousing pregame speech to his teammates as accessed by ESPN’s cameras before heading out to lead the rout of Clemson.

Florida State had 11 players from last season’s team selected in the NFL draft, and here’s more information on NFL lines, while there’s 13 current ‘Noles that could be drafted next April, and its latest recruiting class is a consensus Top 5 based on verbal commitments.

Baby steps, Orange fans, baby steps.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.