Kickoff: Saturday, 3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, N.Y.
Forecast: Temperatures in the mid-30s with a 40 percent chance of snow
Spread: West Virginia by 4
Watchability: High. Besides the Fiesta Bowl, the matchup between the former Big East rivals could be one of the most entertaining of the bowl season. Syracuse has averaged 38.0 points per game over its last three contests. The output pales in comparison to West Virginia's productivity in September when the Mountaineers averaged 53 points per game. If you leave your flat screen HDTV for a quick breather, you might miss several touchdowns.
Shining stars: Syracuse -- QB Ryan Nassib. Earlier this month, Pro Football Weekly named Nassib, not Johnny Manziel or Collin Klein as its First Team All-American quarterback. The magazine based its evaluations on pro potential, not performance this season. Still, the inclusion is a bit of surprise. Few upperclassmen in FBS have improved their draft stock as much as Nassib in 2012. The Orange senior has already set school records for passing yards in a season and a career. Nassib is regarded for his strong arm and ability to read defenses. West Virginia -- QB Geno Smith. The Mountaineers senior quarterback is projected by many draft experts to be the No. 1 overall pick next April. Smith put up video game-like numbers all season. He currently ranks sixth in total offense with 346.58 yards per game and has a sterling 40:6 TD/INT ratio. The extended break after the end of the regular season could help Smith dissect the Orange secondary. Smith is known for his arduous work ethic and his thorough preparation in the film room.
Who could steal the show: Syracuse -- WR Alec Lemon. The Orange senior wideout finished the regular season on a tear. Lemon recorded100 receiving yards or more in three of Syracuse's last four games. He also nearly single-handedly lifted the Orange to a dramatic win over Missouri on Nov. 17 with 12 catches for 244 yards and 2 TDs. Lemon could provide a mismatch for the Mountaineers corners when he's lined up in the slot. West Virginia -- WR Stedman Bailey. Much like Lemon, Bailey improved dramatically toward the end of the year. In West Virginia's last four games, Bailey averaged more than 10 catches and 165 receiving yards per contest. Bailey is menacing when he's used in motion on West Virginia's jet sweep plays.
Magic number for Syracuse: 124. In five losses, the Orange have only averaged 124.8 rushing yards per game. In seven wins, however, Syracuse has averaged 205.4. The Orange will need to control the ball to keep it away from Smith.
Magic number for West Virginia: 17. The Mountaineers weren't exactly world beaters in defeating Kansas and Iowa State to end the regular season, but their defense allowed just 34 combined points. In four previous games, West Virginia allowed 50 or more three times.
3 keys to a Syracuse win:
• Avoid the pregame distractions: Four Orange players have been disciplined by coach Doug Marrone over the last week. On Tuesday, Marrone announced the suspensions of RB Adonis Ameen-Moore and TE Max Beaulieu from the game. Four days earlier, Marrone said that LB Marquis Spruill will miss a significant amount of time in the bowl stemming from an alleged incident with Syracuse police several weeks ago. Injured RB Steve Rene, who police said was also involved in the altercation, will miss a large portion of his first game back when he returns to the team.
• Pressure Smith: In last season's 49-23 win over West Virginia, Syracuse blitzed Smith off the bus in creating a host of errant throws. Former Syracuse DE Chandler Jones has moved on to the NFL, but Orange DE Brandon Sharpe will look to replicate Jones' performance.
• Convert on third downs: Syracuse ranks first in the Big East in third-down conversion percentage (49.2). If Nassib and the Orange can go on long, time-consuming drives, Smith will have fewer chances to light up the scoreboard.
3 keys to a West Virginia win
• Fireworks from Smith: It isn't a coincidence that Smith's two worst games of the season came in blowout defeats to Kansas State and Texas Tech. In West Virginia's 10 other games, he averaged 358.3 passing yards per game. If Smith can shred the Syracuse secondary like he did against Baylor early in the season, the Orange have little chance to win.
• Improved play from the secondary: Nassib is almost as highly regarded as Klein and Landry Jones -- two of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. The Wildcats and Sooners combined for more than 1,000 total yards against the Mountaineers. West Virginia has been unable to contain a team with a stellar passing attack this season.
• Score at least 70 points: The Mountaineers' offense broke through last year in the Orange Bowl when they put up 70 in a blowout win over Clemson. West Virginia has scored 69 or more three times in the last two seasons. Despite their deficiencies on defense, the Mountaineers explosive offense can outscore nearly anyone including Syracuse.
Prediction: West Virginia 41, Syracuse 38
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