In the first of our two-part interview with McAllister, we discuss the state of the Syracuse program and where things sit under first-year head coach Scott Shafer.
What's the mood from Syracuse fans now that they're officially apart of the league and will be playing this first game?
McAllister: I think they're excited on two fronts. One, it's moving up in competition level, from what the Big East was to what the ACC is. Obviously, the Big East has had some top-level teams that are highly ranked. They're going into higher competition in the ACC in a week in and week out basis in that the middle to lower level teams are a higher talent-level. There's more speed. There's more athleticism. There's NFL talent on just about every team in the ACC. There's excitement because it feels like progress, where Syracuse was sort of irrelevant as a football program for several years. Doug Marrone kind of took things back to where Syracuse fans think they should be, winning games like they should be every year, starting to build the program up. Scott Shafer is kind of continuing that, going into a conference where, even with the BCS going, it's one of the major conferences where you feel the future is secure, from a conference affiliation standpoint. There's a lot of excitement for that reason.
And, what better way for Syracuse to start there ACC play than to have the top-ranked team with a Heisman Trophy quarterback coming into the Carrier Dome to kick things off for Syracuse's conference play, not just for this year, but the first-time in school history they'll be playing in an ACC game. There's excitement all around. The first opponent certainly helps that.
What is the state of the program, as far as fan support?
McAllister: The attendance is always a bone of contention at Syracuse. For the Tulanes and the Wagners, for the last couple of weeks, it's been 30-35,000 people, as far as paid attendance. You probably get 5-10,000 less than that, as far as butts in seats. It's been about a half-sold stadium. There is some optimism. You've got the 30,000 fans that go to the games, almost regardless of what the state of the program is…the fans around here are a little fickle. They're sort of, I think, waiting for it to take off, so they can have the kind of paid attendance week in and week out. As far as where things are for this game, in particular, Syracuse fans are going to be coming out. You're probably going to see, probably, the best attended game that Syracuse has had in years.
The last time these two teams played was the '96 Gator Bowl. What do Syracuse fans remember from that game about Clemson? What are their impressions, based on that game?
McAllister: I think when Syracuse thinks back to that, they think of the modern, golden age of Syracuse football where you had Donovan McNabb as a freshman and Kevin Johnson, Marvin Harrison-type of talent. You had legit NFL skill position players on both sides of the ball. Syracuse was on the national landscape. They were a top 20, top 15 team year in and year out…it sort of brings Syracuse fans back to where they think the program should be, a consistent, national-type of a program where they're in the mix and relevant nationally. It brings Syracuse fans back to that, but also, Clemson, back then they were a good program, they're much better right now, especially when you look at the talent level. Clemson almost has what Syracuse did back then, but a step up.
What's the talent level at right now at Syracuse?
McAllister: The talent level is getting better, specifically from a depth standpoint. When Greg Robinson was the coach that was the biggest thing, you had a lot of D-2 type of talent, not only at your depth positions, but also some guys starting. Syracuse, while they would have one or two guys that were decent players at skill positions, they didn't really have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Syracuse, over the last several years, has been building that in recruiting. The numbers are getting better, both from a total scholarship players on the roster, which went significantly downhill when Robinson left and Doug Marrone came in. They've been building that back up and also building the quality depth where you have juniors and seniors playing a majority of the positions, then the freshmen and sophomores sort of fill in the spots behind them, learn then takeover once the other guys graduate.
As far as players on the roster being NFL players, you look at Marquis Spruill, the middle linebacker, who's been a four-year starter here. He's a good player, can really hit, is a smart player. You look at a Sean Hickey, an offensive tackle that is probably going to get some looks, might be a mid-round draft pick, something like that. You look at Jerome Smith. He has potential as a running back. He doesn't have the speed, which could be a hindrance for him. But he could be on the radar, at least to get into a training camp even if he's not drafted, either next year or the year after, depending on when he wants to come out. You look at a Jay Bromley, the defensive tackle. He's probably not going to be drafted real high, might be a sixth or seventh round pick, might be a free-agent. He's someone I think is a little bit underrated and has a real shot to make an NFL roster.
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