Following the Duke-Syracuse game on Saturday, I couldn't really sit in front of that
TV computer (damn you, ESPN3) any longer. I went for a walk. I paid far too much for a turkey sandwich at Whole Foods. I grabbed a box of smoked vegetable crackers that are still highly disappointing. And then I got to tweeting out the emotions that I'd been feeling throughout this game and season, resulting in a sad realization that this year was over, and the next one may not be much better (but really, who am I to say that right now?).
Let's not focus on that here, though. Rather, a couple days removed from the loss that knocked the Orange from bowl eligibility, let's take a look at the five things we truly learned (about both teams) given the results on the field.
1. Syracuse is not going bowling
Before the season, everyone told you it was possible. We didn't listen. We wondered how a 5-0 (HAHAHAHAHA) Orange team could host College Gameday. We told you how this team could hypothetically go 9-3. We laughed at odds and recent history. And then got laughed at. Syracuse was hit with more injuries than I can remember another team dealing with, and it took its toll over the course of the season. As did the nonsensical penalties and mental errors. As did other things.. the fact of the matter is that the Orange won't go bowling for the second time in five years. But it feels like more, and that's the issue.
2. Duke doesn't need to play well to win
Duke has its doubters around the country, but the fact of the matter is this team does not need to put together a solid game on either side of the ball to pull off a victory -- a hallmark of very good squads. Despite a lack of real offensive production against Syracuse, the Blue Devils just waited it out and after three lackluster quarters of football, just took over and let the Orange run themselves out of the game from there. That's depressing as an opponent, but as a college football fan, it's astounding to see that sort of execution from Duke, of all teams. Speaking of...
3. Duke is the best program in the Coastal Division
Don't know exactly how this happened, but here we are. Adding fuel to the why-isn't-SU-in-the-Coastal fire is the fact that Duke, once lowly and downtrodden, is a few games away from an 11-1 regular season record based on smart scheduling and great coaching. I mean LOOK at this stadium. There's a track around it. The Blue Devils are not a football power, yet are putting themselves into competition and conversations with football powers with just two simple actions (see above). That's astounding, and should give Syracuse some clues on the way forward.
4. Syracuse is in for a real QB controversy in 2015
Four different players have thrown 13 or more passes for Syracuse in 2014, and all four will be back in
Orange blue when the team takes the field next year. So what's next? Terrel Hunt is the most dynamic runner of the group and has the most experience, yet lacks the passing skills. A.J. Long showed dynamic growth in just four games, but will his size be a disadvantage? Austin Wilson has had extended emergency snaps this season, yet results are hot-and-cold, yielding some great ball movement but also plenty of turnovers. And Mitch Kimble seems to have some solid rushing ability but the jury's still out on his game. This could go in any direction, which is not the best place to be.
5. Tim Lester: Not inspiring complete faith or doubt just yet, which is the worst part
On the plus side, Syracuse still appears to be competing in (most) games without the top passers on its depth chart or its top offensive linemen (among others). On the negative side, they're still not winning and the offense looks different but not necessarily better. But there's built-in excuses there: injuries, "it's not Lester's system" and young quarterbacks. Whether or not you buy into those excuses probably dictates where you stand on Lester's retention for 2015. But 224 yards of total offense? No comment...