It’s the end of the last year of Coach Schmitt’s deal and some have questioned whether or not he should be retained. NEC Championships notwithstanding, it’s a valid debate. There have been plenty of concerns about the direction of the football team voiced here and elsewhere. Many of those concerns were seen in performances like the one given against West Liberty this year. We detailed a lot of those sorts of things in a prior post at the beginning of October.
Part of that article was spent identifying ways that the team needed to improve this season. It’s the opinion of this writer that Schmitt made a lot of that happen. While the team still had deficiencies and times when they just drove you insane, there were improvements made over and above what we saw against WLU.
If the team needs a change, it’s more likely to be a new offensive coordinator. I’m a fan of such a move.
Regardless, here is why Duquesne should offer Schmitt a new contract.
Wow, this can’t be understated. The defense really came alive. Dorian Bell never lived up to the hype of his national recognition, but others stepped up. The secondary moved away from their inconsistency to turn in several solid efforts. Tackling became much better. Good young players like Zach Zidian and Christian Kuntz developed and put together some excellent performances down the stretch.
The D took running backs that were among the leaders in FCS and turned them into average backs at best. Time after time, the defense found ways to make do with what they were given. Prime example – holding SFU to a field goal when they ended up starting their drive at the Duquesne 18 yard line. Another – holding one of the best offenses in the NEC to 10 points. They won’t take that as a triumph – it was in the loss to the SHU Pioneers – but they kept the Dukes in the game the whole time. Tough, tough unit. My hat is off.
Buechel. Rahming. Zidian. Kuntz. Crimmins. These are just some of the young players that showed themselves to be a force. Did they make mistakes? Yes. Young players will do that. But wow, I’m sold on these guys that Schmitt’s brought to Duquesne. Some of these kids set records despite being on year one or two of their collegiate playing careers. This is a foundation to build upon. And can you imagine when Nate Stone is here to play alongside Kuntz? That’ll be special. Can you imagine Buechel a year older and stronger, with more freedom to move and throw? Me too. This is going to be a fun group to watch grow, because they’re already quite good now. In fact, Kuntz, Buechel, and Crimmins won three of the four NEC player of the week awards in the wake of the Monmouth game.
Buechel also led all NEC quarterbacks in passing yardage and completion percentage. Not bad for a first-time starter.
Two NEC titles in the last three years, although they are shared titles, is impressive for a team that didn’t have scholarships at all until recently. Once again, that’s a good foundation to build upon, and Coach Schmitt has certainly done a lot to get the program to the point where this is possible. It’s hard to argue with those results, and for the team to finally pull together a complete game against Central Connecticut when it needed to is a good sign. Given the missteps in past weeks, it could very easily have gone the other way. The team didn’t quit and they finished the season on a high note.
We can (and have, and will) make a lot of jokes about the NEC coaches picking league-worst Wagner to win the NEC. Some things are hard to predict. But the Dukes were picked to finish second, and that’s exactly where they ended things. It just so happened that “second” also meant a share of the league title. To not make the playoffs when the team picked above you turned out to be so bad is a bitter pill, but the Dukes finished exactly where they were supposed to – and even then it’s possible that they overachieved.
Early returns, like the win over Albany, made things look better than they were. It turned out that Albany was actually a pretty awful team. No, seriously. They were 1 – 11 this year. That game looked great when it happened. Everyone knew Albany, a regular power in the NEC, a regular victor over the Dukes. And now, they’re in the CAA, with the likes of Maine and Delaware. But make no mistake, they were bad. They found themselves with losses not only to everyone in their admittedly difficult league, but also CCSU.
We also underrated the Dukes in some of the losses. Dayton, while frequently beatable for the Dukes, wasn’t a bad team this year at all. YSU finished 8-4.
Finally, there was actually a lot of parity in the NEC this year. Two games separated the top of the league from the bottom in terms of conference record. It’s kind of amazing how even the distribution was. Two teams were 4-2, three were 3-3, and two were 2-4. The NEC has a bunch of ok-to-decent teams that kept beating one another. Even Wagner, who looked bad, had an ambitious schedule. Replace Syracuse and Delaware with some cupcakes and they’re 5-6 – not good, but better than 3-8.
All of this is to say that the Dukes weren’t as good as the Albany game made them seem. Many of the losses weren’t as bad as they felt. The Dukes are what we thought they were before they played any games at all – and yet it looks like there’s growth happening.
Moving forward, there are a few goals that I would put in place:
1. Impact running back. Now.
2. Better offense, likely new offensive coordinator.
3. Playoff game within the next two years.
4. Better than .500 in winnable road games (ie, excluding YSU)
This is by no means exhaustive, but I think Schmitt is capable of all four of these. If he delivers, he deserves an even longer deal. If not, well, then it may be time to part ways. But we’re not at that point yet. I think that Coach Schmitt might just be getting started.