This past weekend for Syracuse Orange football and basketball was something, wasn't it?
Thanks to a heroic effort by sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt, who helped lead the Orange to a 21-17 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2013 Texas Bowl in Houston, and the four-tooled swiss army knife of Tyler Ennis, Trevor Cooney, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant the No. 2-ranked hoops team rallied from an early 18-point deficit to cruise by the No. 8-ranked Villanova Wildcats, 78-62, at the Carrier Dome.
If we all didn't know any better -- and it could be argued we actually don't know any better -- the final breakdown of the Syracuse sports scene at the end of the 2013 calendar year was pretty awesome.
For the football side, first-year head coach Scott Shafer did his goddone darnedest (with help from a progressing offensive coordinator George McDonald and defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough) to keep alive a program that was, seemingly, left for dead after Doug Marrone bolted for the Buffalo Bills.
(Quick side track: Marrone's first NFL season finished Sunday with a loss and a 6-10 record -- a mark the Bills have matched for three straight seasons. HCDM's inaugural season sure was a roller coaster (especially for me, a Bills fan) as it showed promises, however, in the end stumbled (the Bills went 2-3 over their last 5 games, which were all winnable) leaving the franchise with more questions than answers heading into 2014. I guess, that is pretty much how Marrone rolls when it comes to coaching. He is either on point or you're left questioning the direction he is leading his team. I think he can get it figured out, however, in the NFL I do know if he will have that much time.)
Somehow, Shafer was able to surpass most national preseason expectations for his squad, which ended with a winning record and third in the ACC's Atlantic Division behind national powerhouse Florida State and Clemson.
Looking back on the preseason predictions (SB Nation, ACC Media, Athlon), the Orange out-kicked its coverage. Sure at the beginning of the season, the feeling around TNIAAM was a bit more optimistic than national pundits, as we could see that the defense was pretty talented (we didn't see how bad the secondary would be) and Jerome Smith could help carry an offense. However, we all could have been just as wrong than right about this year's squad.
Fortunately for all of us, it seems like Shafer, McDonald, Bullough and Hunt are figuring it out and there's a ton of momentum heading into the recruiting season, Spring Ball and into next season.
While the football team kickstarted a fantastic weekend, it was the sure-handedness of the basketball team that kept things rolling into 2014.
It was a bit squirrely to start, as the Orange handed the Wildcats a 18-0 point lead, but thanks to a 20-0 run sparked by Cooney's hot 3-point shooting and Ennis' smooth play, SU rallied to take control of the big non-conference showdown.
The victory was impressive enough that CBS' Gary Parrish moved Syracuse head of Ohio State in his Top 25 rankings. (To be fair, Parrish had good reasoning for keep SU behind Ohio State, but, now, that debate is over.)
What we're seeing from Orange hoops is simular to what we saw two years ago with a Kris Joseph/Scoop Jardine led squad that won 30 games. Yes, the players are not the same and SU has a much better half-court offense, but, the consistently is what is encouraging. At this point, we know exactly what SU is going to do if an opposing team does this or that to defend its offense.
Double Fair and that leaves Cooney 1-on-1 off screens or Grant isolated on an inferior defender. If teams frustrate Fair and Cooney is a tad off, well, Ennis is there to make plays and put defensive pressure on himself, and when that happens it is back to dishing off to Fair or Grant.
Honestly, the only time Syracuse is going to find trouble this season is when an opposing team is making shots for 35 minutes, out-rebounding them by a large margin and two of SU's four offensive options are eliminated by fouls, injury or god forbid grades. It can happen, but it will not happen much.
Thanks to football and, mostly, basketball, Syracuse fans are striving for bigger and better things -- a better bowl game in 2014 and a No. 1 seed in the East Region, which ends at Madison Square Garden and could lead to another Final Four trip.
The end of 2013 was fun, but as a Syracuse fan you should strive and expect better for 2014.