A quick take on Syracuse’s 20-17 to Boston College in the final game of the 2015 football season:
WHAT HAPPENED: Cole Murphy’s 35-yard field goal as time expired capped a game-winning drive that started at Syracuse’s 31 yard line with 2:42 left in the game. It was a tough, physical, defensive-minded game, reminiscent of the old Big East days, with both teams combining for less than 500 yards of total offense. After the game, head coach Scott Shafer was hoisted on his players’ shoulders, and carried off the field in his final game as head coach of Syracuse after he was fired earlier in the week. Syracuse finishes the season 4-8, while BC finished 3-9.
ANALYSIS: The Shafer era is officially over at Syracuse, and he leaves behind a mixed legacy. On the one hand, his coaching staff recruited fairly well, with freshmen Eric Dungey, Dontae Strickland, and sophomores Erv Phillips and Steve Ismael all showing promise early in their careers. He also clearly commanded loyalty among his players and SU’s graduation rate was outstanding under Shafer’s watch. But after two straight abysmal losing seasons, Shafer’s tenure will likely be defined by being an excellent coordinator who just wasn’t quite ready to be a head coach. “You are what your record says you are,” Bill Parcels once said, and Shafer’s final record was 14-23. Or, perhaps, the chair was pulled from under Shafer before he truly had a chance to settle in and recruit his own system. Keep in mind that Dick MacPherson had six mediocre seasons before the Orange won 11 games and a berth in the 1987 Sugar Bowl.
HERO: Zack Mahoney picked up the first win of his career, throwing for two touchdowns, calmly directing the Orange on the final drive of the game. Ervin Philips rushed for 73 yards on nine carries and a touchdown, and caught five passes for 21 yards and another score. Riley Dixon, in his final game in Orange, punted for 292 yards on eight attempts.
ZERO: Eagles QB Jeff Smith rushed for 117 yards, but was terrible through the air, completing just 1-13 passes for nine yards and two interceptions. The Eagles also went 1-12 on third downs, although they were 1-1 on fourth down, dropping SU to 0-13 on the season in stopping opposing offenses. Penalties played a big factor as well. BC was flagged 11 times for 119 yards, and SU six times for 55 yards.
WHAT’S NEXT: A long offseason with a ton of question marks. The first, of course, will be the coach who succeeds Scott Shafer. Will AD Mark Coyle go with a coordinator from an elite school such as Oregon’s Scott Frost? Or will Coyle pluck a head coach from a non-Power 5 school like Bowling Green’s Dino Babers? Another lingering question will be whether Coyle and the new coach, whoever it is, can keep a strong recruiting class that includes gems Rex Culpepper and Moe Neal. It will make for one of the more interesting offseasons in recent memory.