West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
About the Mountaineers: The storyline on West Virginia is pretty well known. Through five games, the Mountaineers had five wins despite a shaky defense and quarterback Geno Smith looked like the runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Then the defense really became a problem, and Smith stopped being that Heisman frontrunner. West Virginia lost five in a row before recovering to win its final two. West Virginia allowed 49 or more points in four of those five losses during the streak, and Smith looked like he was pressing to score a touchdown on every single possession. West Virginia, which has a great deal of talent at the skill positions, scored at least 31 points in 10 of 12 games this season, and its offense gives it a chance to win this bowl game.
About the Orange: Syracuse's only loss over its last six games was a road loss at Cincinnati, which is nothing to be ashamed about. While Smith, a possible top overall pick in next year's NFL Draft, is the headliner in this game, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has been the one quietly climbing up draft boards. The big senior had 3,619 yards, 24 passing touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. When the Orange came alive in the final six games Nassib was on fire, throwing 13 touchdowns to just one interception. While Syracuse's defense has had some good moments, particularly in a win against Louisville, it's not a particularly strong group. Syracuse's defense ranks 93rd in FBS in pass efficiency allowed, which could be a major problem against the Mountaineers.
Key number: 40 to 6
While Smith plunged out of the Heisman race as West Virginia lost five in a row, his final numbers - especially a 40-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio - were just fine. Smith finished the regular season completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 4,004 yards.
The breakdown: West Virginia famously hung 70 points on Clemson in last season's Orange Bowl, and could do the same to Syracuse. The problem is, the Mountaineers might not be able to stop Syracuse from getting more than 70 points. Both teams throw the ball very well and have great playmakers on offense like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey for West Virginia and Jerome Smith and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. One thing that could slow down the offenses (because it probably won't be either defense) is the weather in the Bronx. Temperatures are expected to be about freezing with a significant wind that could affect the quarterbacks.
Frank Schwab: West Virginia 49, Syracuse 41
I am a big fan of Geno Smith, although I'm still wondering exactly what happened during his midseason lull. Let's be honest: This is a huge audition for him. A great game here and he will start to create a positive draft buzz heading into the offseason. I think he's up to that challenge.
Graham Watson: West Virginia 52, Syracuse 48
Call it wishful thinking, but I want this game to be a ridiculous display of offensive overindulgence. After watching Rutgers and Virginia Tech in the offensively inept Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday, I think we all need a little offense in our lives. Both of these teams are capable of putting up big numbers and playing no defense. Let’s hope they come through.
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