Geno Smith's final game in a West Virginia uniform will be against Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29.
MORGANTOWN - Oh, the irony of it all. On so many different levels.After doing everything possible to escape the Big East Conference - and succeeding - West Virginia's football team will find itself right back in the heart of the league for its bowl game.The Mountaineers on Sunday night accepted an invitation to play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium in New York. The New Era Pinstripe Bowl? It's more like the Old Era, the one West Virginia paid $20 million to escape.As a member of the Big East, WVU never slipped far enough down in the pecking order to be taken by the bowl with the No. 4 pick from the Big East. It did, however, tumble far enough to be picked with the No. 7 choice out of the Big 12.
The ironies don't end there, though. Once there, the Mountaineers will face Syracuse, another of the teams on its way out of the Big East. In fact, the Orange jumped ship before West Virginia, electing to join the ACC but waiting an extra year to do it. This will be Syracuse's final football game as a member of the league.Syracuse officially accepted its invitation to the game late Sunday afternoon. The bowl passed on a chance to choose Pitt and recreate the Backyard Brawl, sending the Panthers to the BBVA Compass Bowl for the third year in a row.Of course, the Pinstripe Bowl trophy won't be the only piece of hardware at stake in the game, which is scheduled for a 3:15 p.m. kickoff on Dec. 29, which is a Saturday. The two teams played for so long as regular rivals that the winner took possession of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy each season.It will not be lost among the Mountaineers, either, that Syracuse has that trophy. Not only did the Orange win the last two meetings between the teams before the series was cancelled by WVU's conference switch, Syracuse absolutely crushed West Virginia in last year's meeting at the Carrier Dome, winning 49-23.Both teams will carry 7-5 records into the bowl game. The Orange went 5-2 and finished in a four-way tie for first place in the Big East with Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati."We finished the season strong with two straight wins and I am glad our players get the reward of playing in a bowl game," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said in a statement. "This will be West Virginia's 11th straight bowl appearance and one more chance for our fans to see the 2012 Mountaineers. Playing in New York City will provide a national stage and Yankee Stadium will be a great venue for our seniors to finish their careers."Syracuse won five of its last six games after a 2-4 start that included losses to Northwestern, Southern California and Minnesota in the non-conference. SU beat Rutgers and won a non-conference road game at Missouri near the end of the season and finished with a 38-20 win at Temple.Syracuse leads the all-time series vs. West Virginia, 32-27, winning the last two meetings after eight straight Mountaineer wins from 2002-09. Before 2012, the two teams had met annually since 1955.This isn't the first time the Mountaineers have played at Yankee Stadium, but it's been 65 years and that was at the former Yankee Stadium. WVU played the second-ever college football game in the original Yankee Stadium on Oct. 27, 1923, a 13-13 tie with Penn State. West Virginia also played Fordham there twice and Manhattan once, and the last game there for WVU was a 40-0 win over NYU in 1947.Syracuse will be playing in the Pinstripe Bowl for the second time in three years. The Orange beat Kansas State there in 2010, 36-34. Coach Doug Marrone is from the Bronx, where Yankee Stadium is located."We are thrilled to be invited to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for the second time in three years," Marrone said in a statement. "It means a great deal to us to play a bowl game in Yankee Stadium where many of our alumni and fans will have the opportunity to share it with us. New York State is the foundation of our program.
"I am proud of this team for the way it fought through early-season adversity to win five of the last six games and win a share of the Big East championship. It is great for our team, and particularly our seniors, to have the chance to play one more game. This senior class has given so much to our program on and off the field and will be great ambassadors for our program and the university."Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1