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Stephen D. Cannerelli | Post-Standard

Well, we went into that game against No. 1-ranked Florida State expecting a loss. And, not surprisingly, we lost. But you know what? That was one hell of an encouraging performance, at least from an offensive standpoint. Things are not exactly rosy for Syracuse, as the Orange are 2-4 and have dropped four straight, but based on the performances of some of the young guys on the Syracuse roster the future could potentially be bright. And more than that, we’re suddenly thinking that maybe earning bowl eligibility isn’t quite as farfetched as we initially thought.

Coming into the game, it wasn’t particularly unreasonable to expect a beating of epic proportions considering the elements at play. For starters, the Orange were on a three game skid, breaking in a new offensive coordinator, and throwing a couple green quarterbacks into the fire against the number one team (and defending national champions) in the country. And yet…

There were so many encouraging signs, at least from an offensive standpoint. The defense was less than stellar, but that’s not entirely unexpected against a high powered, fast, athletic offense conducted by the reigning Heisman winner in Jameis Winston. Speaking of – won’t it be nice in a few years when Syracuse is retroactively given this victory once FSU is forced to vacate all of Winston’s games due to so, so very many violations?

Anyway, the reasons for encouragement can basically be traced back to the burgeoning formation of a talented trio of offensive skill players. The first is Erv Phillips, the fleet footed running back we’ve known about for awhile now. He’s shown great burst in the past, but today he showed that he can run with the Florida State’s of the world, and that is huge. Syracuse’s version of “fast” hasn’t always translated to high end BCS “fast” but today, Erv proved he’s got the speed and quickness to compete with the big boys.

The second revelation coming along in the form of a true freshman was Steve Ishmael, who made a few big plays and hauled in the first two touchdown passes of his career. He’s been on the depth chart all year, but has been sparsely utilized, unfortunately. Today showed that his lack of involvement has been seriously hindering the offense’s production, because the kid has “stud” written all over him.

But the biggest takeaway from the game? Despite throwing two picks, one of which was pretty poor and the second of which was just unlucky (in that his arm got hit as he released the ball), true freshman AJ Long looked pretty outstanding throughout his time on the field. He’s small, but he’s got great feet and a much better arm than anyone expected. He threw some great balls today, the best of which were probably his scramble and deep sideline pass to a diving Ishmael in the first half, and maybe more impressively, his bullet pass to Adrian Flemming’s back shoulder for a first down late in the game.

Look, at the end of the day, the game was still a loss. The Orange have dropped four straight and are going to struggle mightily to get to bowl eligibility at this point. But the fact of the matter is that the offense performed vastly better than any of us could have anticipated, and not only does Tim Lester look like the real deal as a coordinator, but his young guys look like they might be an outstanding group to build around as we move forward.

This was the most encouraging 38-20 loss in recent memory.

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Jeff is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University, and has been published on various websites including Cracked.com, Spike.com, TheSportster.com, Gunaxin.com, and TopTenz.net, among others. His work was featured in the New York Times bestselling book You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News. He's got a wife, and a toddler he's brainwashing to love Syracuse. Jeff's a pretty great guy, overall, and would never steal your car. Follow him on Twitter: @jekelish