CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Let's face it, a butterfly provides more buzz than West Virginia University's New Era Pinstripe Bowl berth does for Mountaineer fans.WVU's matchup against Syracuse is looked upon by most Mountain State residents as a sentence, rather than a reward.Bowl and West Virginia officials have tried to stir the pot. Yankees president Randy Levine has called it "a sensational game." Mark Holtzman, executive director for the bowl, told the Syracuse Post-Standard the game is the envy of many more prestigious bowls. He said that was evident in the reception he received during the National Football Foundation events in Manhattan."Everyone, including the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, they all gave me high-fives congratulating us on the great matchup," Holtzman said.
It's no wonder. WVU brings star power in quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.But Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen has quite a task in getting his team jacked up.That could be a problem for WVU. Teams excited to be in bowls are not to be overlooked against disappointed teams. The Mountaineers, in fact, have benefited from that in BCS bowls. Ditto teams like Boise State.And check out the Pinstripe matchups.
If Smith and company get off to a fine start, they should have no trouble scoring against the Orange. Syracuse has the nation's No. 62 pass defense. If you look closer, you'll see it has even worse defensive pass efficiency statistics, ranked No. 93.But flip the pancake. What you'll notice is a Syracuse passing attack that's dangerous as well - especially against a West Virginia secondary that's next to last nationally in both pass defense and defensive pass efficiency. (Holgorsen can thank his stars for Louisiana Tech and Colorado, respectively.)Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib is No. 12 nationally in passing yards per game.Who knew? I swear I don't remember one ESPN or Fox or CBS packaged TV feature segment on Nassib.Yet the player is averaging 301.6 passing yards per game. That is - are you ready for this? - better than USC's Matt Barkley, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and - drum roll please - Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, your latest Heisman Trophy winner.
And here's something else to chew on: While WVU's total defense is ranked No. 108 nationally, Syracuse's defense is ranked No. 50. In other words, it's only half as bad as that of the Mountaineers.If you compare the gaps, you might wonder why WVU is favored.
There are, though, other considerations. Foremost is West Virginia's tougher regular-season schedule. According to the Sagarin computer rankings, WVU played the No. 20 toughest schedule, while Syracuse's was No. 45.Also, perhaps stunningly, Syracuse's special teams play has been awful. More awful, in fact, than that of WVU. (Example: In net punting, WVU is No. 100 nationally; Syracuse is No. 112.)But keep in mind the motivation factor. Syracuse's team seems quite happy to be playing in the game. It is playing, basically, a home game. And the last time it played a home game against the Mountaineers, the Orange won 49-23 in the Carrier Dome.Think Syracuse coach Doug Marrone will be motivated? He was born in the Bronx.Marrone and Syracuse know they can take another step in rebuilding the Orange program by again knocking off the Mountaineers.On paper, West Virginia is the favorite. In New York, we'll have to wait and see.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.