- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) versus Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East):
WHO TO WATCH: Stedman Bailey. Hard to pick just one of the West Virginia trio on offense that has shattered just about every school record. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are just as worthy of selection. So are Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. But I went with Bailey for a variety of reasons. First, he had an incredible season, leading the nation with 23 touchdown receptions. Second, this is his last game after declaring early for the NFL draft, a perfect opportunity to showcase his talents for everybody to see. And third, he was just about the only West Virginia player to have any success against Syracuse last season, with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
WHAT TO WATCH: Geno Smith versus Syracuse's front. This is the biggest matchup to watch in the game, and it is not even really that close. Syracuse beat West Virginia the past two years in large part because its defensive front found a way to harass Smith. In those two victories, Syracuse combined to sack Smith nine times and force him into five interceptions. Chandler Jones was particularly impressive in both of those games. He is gone, and you can bet Syracuse will be turning its focus to Brandon Sharpe as a rush end in this game. Now, by all measures, Smith was a more complete quarterback this season than the past two years, as he threw a whopping 40 touchdown passes. But five of his six interceptions came in losses, so the game plan for Syracuse should remain the same as the previous two years -- make Smith as uncomfortable as possible.
WHY WATCH: This game is being billed as potentially having plenty of offensive fireworks, as both teams average more than 470 yards per game. Plus, they are longtime Big East rivals. Before 2012, Syracuse and West Virginia had met annually since 1955 and played for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy when it was established in 1993. Although the trophy is not going to be on the line in this game, West Virginia will try to beat the Orange for the first time since 2009. One more thing to keep an eye on -- the weather. Snow is expected in New York on Saturday, so that could radically alter game plans and force both teams to rely more on their ground games. Jerome Smith and Andrew Buie (or even Shawne Alston) could end up with big days.
PREDICTION: Syracuse 45, West Virginia 44.