West Virginia-Syracuse Preview
It's been a bumpy ride for Geno Smith and West Virginia, who had BCS aspirations earlier this year before coming undone mid-season.
The Mountaineers, though, have since regrouped and will surely be looking to come out strong against a familiar foe at Yankee Stadium.
Smith concludes his remarkable college career as West Virginia and Syracuse square off for the 60th time in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday.
While the Mountaineers (7-5) climbed their way to No. 5 in the country after averaging 52.0 points during a 5-0 start, things didn't exactly go their way thereafter. West Virginia lost its next five games, eliminating any hopes of playing in a BCS bowl.
Coach Dana Holgorsen's program, however, put an end to its woes with a 31-24 win at Iowa State on Nov. 23, then blew by Kansas 59-10 in its regular-season finale the following weekend.
"We finished the season strong with two straight wins, and I am glad our players get the reward of playing in a bowl game," Holgorsen said. "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."
Most of the headlines surrounding this game figure to highlight Smith, who's shattered school records with 11,461 passing yards and 96 touchdowns. He's thrown for 4,004 yards and an FBS-best 40 scores this season and completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards and three TDs against the Jayhawks to tie a single-game FBS record with a 95.8 completion percentage.
"He's been playing well. He's played well all year, he's a great quarterback, and I'm proud of his accomplishments," said Holgorsen of Smith, who threw for 407 yards and six TDs as West Virginia routed Clemson 70-33 in last season's Orange Bowl. "He's a great kid and he will be remembered around here for a long, long time."
While West Virginia and Big East co-champion Syracuse (7-5) met every year from 1955-2011, the programs didn't figure to square off in 2012 after the Mountaineers bolted to the Big 12. The Orange had dropped eight straight matchups in this series before taking the last two, winning 19-14 in 2010 and 49-23 last season. Smith has been sacked nine times in those losses, throwing just three touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I think we're gonna be motivated to play based on what happened last year," Holgorsen said. "I think there's gonna be a lot of familiarity with it. We will revisit that, obviously watch the film from last year, watch their film from this year and try to come up with the best plan that we possibly can.
"I think it's a fantastic matchup, I think the fans are gonna be excited about it. I think college football in general is gonna be excited about it."
While the Schwartzwalder Trophy was introduced to this series in 1993, it won't be on the line this time around.
"I think one of the things we all have to be conscious of is that to the right of us is the Steinbrenner Trophy," Syracuse coach and Bronx native Doug Marrone said when asked about the Schwartzwalder Trophy. "That's what we're both here for. I think it's very important that we all understand that."
Marrone's team enters this matchup riding a wave of momentum. After beating then-No. 11 Louisville 45-26 on Nov. 10, the Orange pulled out road wins over Missouri and Temple to earn a share of the conference title.
Syracuse is led by senior Ryan Nassib, whose school-record 3,619 passing yards rank 10th in the country. He could be in for a big day against a Mountaineers defense thats given up 38.1 points per game - the nation's ninth-worst mark.
Starting linebacker Marquis Spruill will not play "a significant portion'' of this game because of his arrest following an altercation with police Dec. 2. Marrone did not specify how much of the Pinstripe Bowl that Spruill will miss against a West Virginia team averaging 41.6 points to rank seventh in the FBS.
Syracuse has also suspended sophomore tailback Adonis Ameen-Moore and reserve tight end Max Beaulieu for violating athletic department rules. Ameen-Moore, who was used mainly in the short-yardage formation, gained 108 yards on 30 carries and scored five touchdowns in the six games he played.
The Orange will need to be especially wary of Smith's favorite target, Stedman Bailey. The 5-foot-10 wideout is averaging 125.1 yards and leads the nation with 23 TDs, and on Dec. 17 announced he'd forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Syracuse, which is headed to the ACC next season, is 13-9-1 all-time in bowl games. The Orange most recently beat Kansas State 36-34 in the inaugural 2010 Pinstripe Bowl behind Nassib's 239 passing yards and three TDs.