For better or for worse, the most important position in football, maybe in all sports, is quarterback. There's just no getting around the fact that QBs touch the ball on every offensive snap -- save for the nearly extinct "wildcat" plays that still linger -- significantly altering plays, drives and games more so than the typical positional player.
And a freshman quarterback captures all of our imaginations even more so, for better or for worse. Plenty of potential at a power position. It doesn't always go well, but when it does, you have a couple to three years of anything-can-happen football.
Youthful and talented but untested at quarterback can change the game, change programs.
Now, let's be real, A.J. Long, Syracuse's current frosh at the helm, isn't exactly setting the world on fire. He didn't throw a touchdown pass against Wake Forest and he's yards-per-attempted pass sits below six. He was, however, efficient and got the job done last weekend. Bigger than that, he proved himself dynamic, again. Real-life complete passes, conversions on third down and even some extended plays that resulted in positive yards for Syracuse, and acknowledgement for him! Couple that with his calming play against FSU and there's reason to be excited. With him under center, even with his inexperience and alleged shaky arm strength, you get the impression he'll do something good. You get the impression that he was made for this, whatever "this" is.
Shafer laughs when asked about AJ Long's confidence: "You don't need to worry about confidence when it comes to AJ.:— chris carlson (@ccarlsononSU) October 18, 2014
That's a quarterback, right?
"I don't give a damn about the situation or the score, hop on my back, fellas, we're winnin' this one."
It's Willie Beamen mixed with Paul Crewe with a little Jon "Mox" Moxon sprinkled in. The guy you'd probably hate but tolerate in high school because, although he may be a total jerk, he is a winner. We don't want to be friends with that guy in real life, we just want him leading our favorite team on the field. It takes a little something extra, a lot of something extra, to not just play QB but to take over QB.
Am I saying A.J. Long, he was in high school at this exact point last year, he who had his only start of his "career" come against the ACC's version of Little Sisters of the Poor, is that guy, any of those fictional qbs? The Man?
No, I'm not. Not yet anyway.
Long could completely fold up lawn-chair style this weekend in Death Valley and that could spiral into his losing the starting job down the line. In a few months from now we may have to Google "AJ Long" just to remember him. I mean, let's be real, the kid has a lot more ups and downs to go, a lot more growing to be done.
But I think we can realize this season is at a breaking point, if it already hasn't broke. Below .500 with a game at top-twenty-five Clemson? Sure, there's absolutely a possibility of six wins still out of this schedule for Syracuse. And while the red zone is still a disaster (19 scores allowed in 23 defensive attempts, 13 being touchdowns), as is the secondary, the Orange defense was probably a bigger reason for the domination of the Demon Deacons than the play of Long.The Tigers will be without key starters and the games after Saturday all will be somewhat to very winnable.
And yet, I think we're likely to see more Ls than Ws from here on out in 2014. Then why not make this Long's time? Even if it's a season lost, a star may have already been found.
So why not get on board with A.J. Long?
He could be the reason to watch this year and very well could be the reason to believe next. Long to Steve Ishmael is pretty exciting, no? How about Long to Ishmael for the next few years? Sounds even better, right? Add in Ashton Broyld and any other of the running backs already in house and the offense may actually become less offensive to watch. There's a lot to like here.
So, what's the hold up to the Orange future here?
Oh, maybe Terrel Hunt? He who led Syracuse to a bowl WIN last season and broke a bone in his leg this season attempting to make something out of the nothing that was the offense to that point? That complicates things, obviously. Hunt doesn't deserve to be put out to pasture just because he got hurt. And who's to say Syracuse wouldn't have looked great with him at the helm vs. Wake? It's a tricky situation, no question.
Still, I look to his diminished numbers and his relative lack of growth as reasons to believe he may very well have been demoted this year, at some point. His injury obviously paving the way for Long's debut, but maybe Austin Wilson would have eventually taken over. Hunt's being out is unfortunate, but the writing was probably already on the walls.
Now the cop-out answer to appease all involved is to let Hunt take the year to get healthy and then let him "compete" for the starting position next year. That makes things less complicated now and allows for a peaceful transition into spring ball.
But that solution, to me, is just delaying the inevitable, especially should Long lead the Orange to several more wins. Yes, Hunt did the same last year, but there's something different about Long. You feel it, right? Hunt played quarterback, Long seems to be quarterback. The intangibles that you can't really quantify but you know when you see them, that's what SU may have right now. It's Long for Syracuse now, and he may be exactly what this program needs, for the better.