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New Era Pinstripe Bowl preview

Another College Bowl game, another drinking game and another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Saturday December 29th, 15:15 ET (20:15 GMT)
Yankee Stadium, New York, New York
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Syracuse Orange


The New Era Pinstripe Bowl has been held at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx since 2010. The game pairs the fourth-place team from the Big East Conference against the seventh-place team from the Big 12 Conference. In the event the Big 12 lacks an eligible team, Notre Dame will receive its invitation. However, this hasn't been a problem yet as both conferences have managed to fulfil their obligation to this Bowl. As you should know, New Era is a clothing company, their most visible product being their #swag baseball caps that you will probably have seen on the heads of rap musicians and your local scallies down the estate. Last year's game was a defensive scrap that finished 27-23.

The 7-5 Mountaineers opened the season 5-0 and while many inside the team were dreaming of BCS glory, with consensus No.1 NFL draft pick and senior quarterback Geno Smith leading the offense to an average of 52 points, 399.2 yards and 4.8 TDs. His performance in the 70-63 defeat of Baylor (60 minutes game, no overtime mind) was magical, he passed for 656 yards and 8 touchdowns, possibly one of the best quarterback performances I've seen, college or otherwise. During that stretch, his passer rating was 202.38 something astronomical. Then it all went wrong. The Mountaineers dropped 5 on the bounce starting with back to back thumping by Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined 104-28. Smith's passer rating dropped to 119.13 and it looked unlikely the Mountaineers were going to be bowl-eligible, never mind BCS-bound, and Smith's arrival in Kansas City looked very unlikely. The beneficiaries of a weak schedule, they beat the 6-6 Iowa State Cyclones and the 1-11 Kansas Jayhawks (it's basketball season anyways) to guarantee themselves a spot in this bowl at worst. Smith has a good offense around him, Steadman Bailey has 1501 yards receiving and 23 TDs and announced he'd forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft. On the other side of the field, Tavon Austin snagged 12 TDs along with his 1200+ yard haul, he's added nearly 600 yards on the ground for another 3 TDs. As you'd expect, the ground game hasn't been too sharp, but Andrew Buie has racked up 817 yards for his 7 touchdowns. Defense has been optional on this team, but that's what you'd expect from a team ranked 7th in scoring offense and 8th in total offense. As it is, they're 110th in the nation in total defense, surrendering 469.6 yards a game including 21 sacks and 9 interceptions.

So, Syracuse, well they also finished 7-5, but they only beat one FBS team with a winning record, (21)Louisville whom they beat 45-26, that defeat didn't do much damage to the Cardinals, they still made it to the Sugar Bowl but more of that later. These teams used to meet regularly in the Big East, but when West Virignia left for the Big-12, that rivalry dropped off, but Syracuse have taken the last two meeting between the teams, winning 19-14 in 2010 and 49-23 last season. Geno Smith has been sacked nine times in those losses, throwing just three touchdowns and five interceptions. Interesting as their passing defense hasn't been that great, ranking 65th in the nation, giving up 236.9 yards per game. Syracuse is led by senior QB Ryan Nassib, whose school-record 3,619 passing yards rank 10th in the country. Especially encouraging as they face a Mountaineers defense that's given up 38.1 points per game, 114th in the nation, or 11th worst.

Starting linebacker Marquis Spruill will not play "a significant portion" of this game because of his arrest following a bit of biff with some police officers in Syracuse. Head coach Doug Marrone did not specify how much of the Pinstripe Bowl he'll miss, but he'll be a big miss with 2 sacks and 62 total tackles this season. Syracuse has also suspended sophomore tailback Adonis Ameen-Moore and reserve tight end Max Beaulieu. Ameen-Moore, who was used mainly in the short-yardage and goal-line formation, named THE TANK, gained 108 yards on 30 carries and scored five touchdowns in the six games he played. Syracuse, who head to the ACC next season, are 13-9-1 all-time in bowl games, including winning the innaugural Pinstripe Bowl beating Kansas State 36-34 two years ago.

FOR WEST VIRGINIA TO WIN
Strangely for a team which excelled during the regular season throwing the ball, it's their running game that can win this one for them. Once Geno Smith stopped running with the ball, West Virginia started losing. If they can re-establish some form of balance to that attack, Syracuse will struggle trying to keep up. Defense is a problem, well not so much a problem as a disaster. They'll be fine though as despite giving up 457 points, they've scored 499. That wouldn't cut it in the pros, but it's good enough for this game.

FOR SYRACUSE TO WIN
Defense? Nah. It'll be an attempt at more offensive, more specifically passing offense. They need to try and keep pace with the Mountaineers, and can't allow them to get into a groove with the ball. They will need to get there hands on Geno Smith, and at worst, close the pocket, and make him beat them just with his arm. While Smith is well capable of doing so, that's where the Orange have had all of their success against this mob, and to continue that success on Saturday it couldn't hurt to hit Smith when they can, though not tackling like Jordon Byas of Duke on Thursday.

VERDICT
Should be a cracker between two excellent passing attacks and two dire passing defenses. Hopefully there will be plenty of big plays, a lot of yards and more importantly a barrow-full of points. Geno Smith unsurprisingly is the key player in this match-up, and if he can replicate anything near his performance against Baylor, the Mountaineers will be far too good for Syracuse.

ADVICE
West Virginia -4
Over 73 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: A player on either team is likened to any Yankee player, past or present.
2 drinks: Any mention of Batman or Gotham.
Finish it: When somebody mentions the Mets.

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