(Orlando, FL): No. 16 West Virginia (8-3) vs. No. 20 Syracuse (9-3)
The Camping World Bowl kicks off at 5:15 Friday and can be found on ESPN. The game features two teams with very different expectations going into the season that were exceeded by one team while the other ended in disappointment. Both teams will look to take home the bowl game trophy that has featured the ACC and Big 12 the last five seasons. It also represents two old Big East rivals that have met 60 times, with Syracuse winning 33 of them. The last time the two met was in 2012, where Syracuse took home the Pinstripe Bowl to the tune of 38-14.
How They Got Here: West Virginia
West Virginia had high expectations going into the 2018 season led by senior QB Will Grier. The Mountaineers were 8-1 and ranked No. 9 in the nation with two games to go. However, West Virginia lost two straight games to end the season, the first a heartbreaking road loss to Oklahoma State after leading 41-31 with 7 minutes left. Even after the loss, West Virginia was in a position to win the final game of the season and have a chance to play in the Big 12 Championship game. But Oklahoma entered Morgantown and left with a 59-56 win led by Heisman winner Kyler Murray. Those two losses landed the Mountaineers in the Camping World Bowl after believing they were a legit Final Four team, or at least good enough to make a New Year’s Six Bowl.
West Virginia’s offense did not fail to show up this season. The aforementioned Will Grier threw for 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. West Virginia finished 8th in the nation with 520.4 yards per contest. However, Grier will not be playing in the game in order to prepare for next year’s NFL draft. Head coach Dana Holgorsen says that both Jack Allison and Trey Lowe III will see playing time at quarterback. The Mountaineers will also be without leading WR Greg Jennings Jr and OT Yodny Cajuste, the anchor of the West Virginia offensive line. Luckily for the Mountaineers, they will have explosive RB Kennedy McKoy and senior WR David Sills V to provide some leadership on offense.
Defensively, the Mountaineers had their struggles against an explosive Big 12 conference. They were middle of the pack in the NCAA with 405.5 yards allowed per game, but made up for it by forcing 22 turnovers. In a sense, the West Virginia offense hurt the defense when it scored too fast, as the defense saw 154 plays and allowed 1,272 yards the final two games. Syracuse averages 82 plays per game which could be a tough task for the Mountaineer defense.
How They Got Here: Syracuse
Syracuse was projected to win 3 to 4 games in a tough ACC conference but ended up being one of the best teams in it. The Orange finished with 9 wins, including 6 in conference play, and will appear in their first bowl game under Dino Babers. Syracuse has won the last three bowl games they’ve played in, and 5 of the last 6. The Orange currently sit at No. 19 in the nation after being ranked for the first time since 2001 earlier in the season.
Syracuse features a senior star QB of their own, Eric Dungey, who went for 3,297 total yards, 32 total touchdowns, and threw just 7 interceptions. The senior was finally able to appear in every game for the Orange, but was taken out of the Notre Dame game with an early injury. Syracuse also features a two-headed monster at running back with Moe Neal and Dontae Strickland. They also had four receivers go for over 500 yards, led by big play target Jamal Custis and speedster Sean Riley in the slot. That fast paced Orange offense went for 468.8 yards per game and scored 40.8 points.
On defense, the Orange were similar to West Virginia season. Let up a lot of yards, but make up for it with forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback. Freshman Andre Cisco led the team and the country with 7 interceptions. However, the Orange have absences of their own that could be huge. Alton Robinson (10 sacks) will miss the game due to personal reasons. Furthermore, DE McKinley Williams and CB Antwan Cordy will be out for personal reasons. The Orange will look to replace these absences in time for Friday’s kick off.
Player to Watch: Eric Dungey (Syracuse)
No surprise here. Dungey has been the heart and soul of Syracuse’s offense for four years now and will look to go out with a bang. The senior has yet to play in a bowl game for the Orange, but knows his impact on the Upstate New York community. The last game Dungey played against Boston College, he totaled 6 touchdowns. The Orange will need one more big game from their leader.
Syracuse is currently 1 point favorites with the over/under set at 66. Take your pick on the winner, but the over/under is truly interesting. 66 would be an easy cover with a full West Virginia offense, but no Will Grier makes it tougher. However, Syracuse’s defense is missing enough pieces and has been bad enough at times to allow some points. This game feels like it should be an over hit, but will end up more low scoring than expected.
This game would’ve been awesome if it was a Will Grier vs. Eric Dungey battle in Orlando. But with no Grier, the storyline is slightly less interesting. However, it’s still a matchup of two good teams wanting to finish strong. I like the Orange led by Eric Dungey to take this one home, 34-21, in the first bowl game under Dino Babers.