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Should Gunnar Holmberg Have Started Last Season?

Short answer: probably not, but we can’t possibly know

Duke v Virginia
 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 26: Gunnar Holmberg #12 of the Duke Blue Devils rushes in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers on September 26, 2020 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Over at the Duke Chronicle, Max Rego looks at Gunnar Holmberg’s success so far as Duke’s quarterback and asks: why didn’t he start last year?

It’s a fair question but it’s one that most people can’t answer and it underscores something that doesn’t get discussed much but it really should be and that’s this: most fans (and reporters, for that matter) lack the intimacy to pass judgment on those sorts of decisions.

This isn’t a slam on Rego. We generally enjoy his columns and he’s a good writer.

But you have to be very close to a program to make those sorts of judgments. We could see that Chase Brice wasn’t really that great of a quarterback for Duke. Maybe the idea that he came from Clemson suggested that he would be (or maybe Duke’s line didn’t give him enough protection).

Maybe Brice had better chemistry with his receivers. Maybe the staff just trusted him more.

We see this in basketball too. Why is that guy starting? He can’t play (usually meaning he doesn’t score much).

But maybe he does other things that the average observer can’t appreciate. Maybe he takes some pressure off of a rebounder who can focus on that. Maybe he helps the point guard stabilize the team emotionally.

Or maybe someone else has a lingering injury that reduces his effectiveness somehow. Maybe the coaches just trust him more. Or maybe they just respect hard work and want to reward it if possible.

The point is the same: most of us only ever see the broad outlines of the team on game day. If Cutcliffe had thought that Holmberg would have won games last season, given Duke’s struggles, he would surely have started.