On a full Saturday of College Football, the mid-afternoon game is the New Era Pinstripe Bowl as Syracuse returns to the Bronx for the second time in the last three years looking to get a victory over a familiar foe the West Virginia Mountaineers. WVU appeared headed for much a much bigger bowl after a red-hot start to the season but a mid-season swoon has them representing the Big 12 in Big East country as they take on the Orange. This should be a high-scoring, pass-heavy shootout and it may just be the first team to fail to score loses as two of the top quarterbacks in the nation throw down in what should be a great game to watch.
When to Watch: 3:15 PM ET, Saturday, December 29, 2012
Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
What to Watch For
When Syracuse has the ball: Syracuse is 21st in the nation in passing offense behind a great year from Ryan Nassib. Nassib ranked 13th in yards per game in the nation with 3,619 yards to go with his 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Nassib has a pair of Senior receivers to throw to in Alec Lemon who leads the team with 1,063 yards and 7 touchdowns and Marcus Sales who has a team-high 8 receiving touchdowns to go with his 863 yards. Syracuse can run the ball as well with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley splitting carries. Smith has rushed for 1,019 yards and Gulley has seven touchdowns to go with his 617 yards.
West Virginia’s struggles this season have rarely been on the offensive side as you can see below, but their defense has let them down repeatedly. They ranke 110th in the nation in total defense, 116th in scoring defense, and second to last (123rd) in passing defense giving up 327.1 yards per game only better than Louisiana Tech. That could result in a field day for Nassib against a Mountaineers squad who have allowed 34 points or more eight times this season although they did allow just 34 total in their final two games.
When West Virginia has the ball: The Mountaineers finished seventh in the nation in scoring offense and sixth in passing offense. Geno Smith led the country in passing touchdowns with 40 and is among the top quarterbacks in the nation finishing fourth in yards per game and seventh in QB rating.
Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey become household names during the Mountaineers 5-0 start in which they rose all the way into the top five. Austin was moved into the backfield in many of the WVU late-season formations and finished with 598 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as well as 1,259 yards receiving and another 12 touchdowns. Austin’s numbers would be tops on many teams but they pale in comparison to Bailey’s final numbers. Bailey led all receivers with 23 touchdowns with seven more than any other receiver in the FBS while finishing third in yards per game with 1,501 yards coming into this game.
The task of stopping the Mountaineers high-flying offense will be a tough one for the Orange D. Syracuse’s defense was solid ranking 51st in total defense, 52nd in scoring defense, and 65th in passing defense. Their led by their two Big East 2012 All-Conference First Team selections, defensive end Brandon Sharpe who has six sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss on the season and strong safety Shamarko Thomas who leads the Orange with 84 tackles while also creating turnovers with three forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Who to Watch For (NFL Prospects)
The two quarterbacks facing off are likely to be among the top five QBs picked in this year’s draft. Many have Geno Smith as the top overall pick although there’s still a long way to go before draft day. If the Chiefs get the top pick, you would think they have to go QB and that Smith would be the choice with Matt Barkley’s injury issues. Ryan Nassib is also a pro-level passer who has set almost all the passing records at Syracuse who will probably be a second round pick, but could move up as the pre-draft process continues. He has the arm strength to make all the throws at every level, but his decision-making has been questioned at times and he’s tended to force the ball at times. I think both of these QB’s will be starters in the NFL in the next few years if they land in the right spot.
There will be plenty of other offensive talent on the field as well at Yankee Stadium with Tavon Austin expected to join his quarterback in the first round and Stedman Bailey declaring he will enter the draft as well. Bailey is not a top-shelf athlete but has great hands and runs very clean routes. He could go as high as the second or as low as the fourth round. Syracuse could also have a wide receiver or possibly two taken with Alec Lemon projecting as a sixth round pick and Marcus Sales as either an end-of-the-draft option or a undrafted free agent.
Defensively, expect safety Shamarko Thomas to go in the fourth or fifth round and Brandon Sharpe to be a final-round option for teams looking for pass-rushers.
I think that ‘Cuse can pull of the upset here. They played and embarrassed the Mountaineers last year 49-23 in the Carrier Dome and always travel well to New York City. They’re familiar with the bowl game having played here just a few years ago. West Virginia’s defense has been suspect all year and wins to close out the season over KU and Iowa State don’t convince me that what’s wrong with this defense is fixed.
Syracuse has played solid competition this year with a close losses to then-#2 USC and then-#20 Rutgers and a win over then-#9 ranked Louisville. They also picked up a win against the only Big 12 team they played when they faced Missouri. I think their mid-level defense is going to do more to slow down WVU than the Mountaineers defense will do to slow down Nassib. I’ll take the Orange and the 3.5 points and enjoy the fireworks at Yankee Stadium.