The Syracuse Orange and West Virginia Mountaineers will do battle in less than two weeks at the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. The game keeps alive a rivalry that's been going yearly since 1955, though it will probably be the final time for a long time we play one another.
Since we stopped caring about them and they stopped caring about us, we might be a little out of step on what to expect from the Mounties in this game. Thankfully we have the fine folks at The Smoking Musket to bring us up to speed. Below are their answers to my questions, and you can read my answers to their questions here. Giddy up.
When the announcement went out that it was Syracuse vs. West Virginia, there seemed to be a lot of sturm und drang from WVU fans about it. They hated the bowl. They hated us. They hated everything. A few weeks later, is that the same feeling or has acceptance set in?
I don't think the attitude has changed much since the bowl was announced. Folks may be coming to terms with the idea that this is the last time we'll see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and probably Stedman Bailey in a WVU uniform, so I think that's a little bit of a saving grace. But that being said, I don't think the hatred has anything to do with Syracuse. Morale has been down in the Mountain State really since the Texas Tech game, and especially since the heartbreaking loss to TCU at home in double-OT. I mean, we had almost 10,000 empty seats against Oklahoma for a Saturday night game, which is flat out embarrassing as a program. So people were already apathetic about WVU football. The bowl selection certainly doesn't help that.
Personally, I think the Pinstripe Bowl is a good idea, especially for teams in close proximity to NYC who may be rebuilding or not expecting big seasons. But not when your team just endured a 5-game losing streak after being ranked in the top 5 with your Heisman-frontrunning quarterback basically imploding for 2 straight games. Fair or not, that precipitous fall really jaded a lot of fans.
At that point, it's hard to get excited to play anyone, let alone a team that has been on your schedule for decades in a cold weather city that happens to be very expensive around the Holidays and where most fans have been at one point or another. To me, bowl games are supposed to be in new, warm-weather cities against teams that you wouldn't normally play. This year's Pinstripe Bowl is pretty much the antithesis of that, and I think that's where the malaise comes from.
West Virginia was something of a darkhorse title contender (or at least it seemed) early in the season. What the hell happened?
The combination of a lot of factors, really. Our atrocious pass defense was bound to catch up to us eventually, so I think most folks knew a loss or two was right around the corner, even when we were ranked in the top 5.
I also think we got a little too big for our britches after winning at Texas and maybe lost our edge, then came out and got punched in the mouth by a pretty good Texas Tech team, which shook our confidence. Obviously the Big 12 is a really good and really deep conference too, which compounds a lot of issues. You just can't take a week off and expect to survive those games.
And finally, we had some breaks go against us this year that went the other way last year. If you remember, we were 9-3 last year too. But we had close calls the last 3 games beating Cincinnati by 3, Pitt by 1, and USF by 3 and getting a lot of lucky bounces along the way. This year, we blow a coverage against TCU to let them tie it in the last minute, have a field goal blocked in overtime, then have a 50/50 call go against us to lose it; we had several special teams gaffes lead to turnovers against Oklahoma State; and we were poised to beat Oklahoma until they made a last-minute drive for the win. If just 2 of those 3 games go our way, we're 9-3 and probably in the Cotton Bowl. But such is the way of life in college football.
What did you guys think of your first Big 12 season? Any advice for us as we head to a new conference of our own?
For WVU fans it was a blast. We were sad to leave behind you guys, Pitt, and to a lesser extend Rutgers, who we had played every year for basically my lifetime. But the Big East isn't what it once was, especially with all 3 of the teams I mentioned leaving soon and with marquee teams like Virginia Tech, Miami and even BC having already left. Fans have a harder time getting excited to play UConn, USF and Cincinnati, and the media has a hard time respecting them, so the time had come to get out. For us, it took some adjusting to see a bunch of new names of teams with whom we weren't familiar - other than Oklahoma, it had been decades since we played anyone in the Big 12, and it's not like we had a bunch of nice regional games like UVA, Wake Forest and Clemson coming up. We also found that we share more than we thought with our new brethren in terms of culture and passion, if not geography. The best part was the chance to re-make our tarnished reputation in the way we treat visiting fans. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, which may have been the case with some of our old Eastern rivals, but I saw nothing but kindness toward visiting fans this year, and numerous folks told me that Morgantown was their favorite Big 12 destination after they made the trip. That made me really proud. If you look up the video of WVU fans singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" after the Baylor game, that really captured the attitude of everyone toward the new conference (even if we did lose that passion later on).
As for advice, I would encourage Orange fans to embrace the new conference - come out to the Carrier Dome to welcome new (and old) rivals like Boston College, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech. For fans living away from New York, take advantage of traveling to some of the new locations. And finally, don't get discouraged (like WVU fans did) if Syracuse doesn't fare as well as you hoped. Part of being in a better conference includes taking your lumps and coming back strong the next week. In a nutshell, enjoy the spirit of college football no matter how well the Orange are faring.
Given the expectations and the "move up" to the Big 12, are West Virginia players going to get up for this game? Do you fear a letdown given the disappointment or do you think these guys want to prove a point?
Part of me fears a letdown, but so far under Holgorsen we haven't had too much of a problem with that. Geno Smith is as competitive a guy as I've seen in Morgantown, and I don't think he will want to go out as anything but a winner. Plus it helps that Syracuse beat us the last two years, so there should be no way we take you lightly. In fact, if I'm Holgorsen I have film of last year's beatdown in the Dome playing on loop the entire month of December to keep everyone motivated.
The Schwartzwalder Trophy is off the table, which is a shame. If you guys do win, can we expect a midnight raid on Manley Field House to come and claim it? Will you make your own Schwartwalder Trophy out of metal shards and burnt couch? And do WVU fans actually care about it? I've seen a lot of WVU fans point out that they don't consider us a rival.
I've stated before that I think it's a shame the Schwartzwalder Trophy isn't on the line, as I would hope WVU would put it up if we had it. And if I tipped you off to any raid to claim it, that would kind of defeat the purpose of the raid, so I'm going to remain mum on that point. I know I'd like to have it back, especially after the last 2 years.
As for how deeply Mountaineer fans care about it, that's hard to say. Unlike Syracuse, which doesn't have a true football rival, WVU has Pitt. Then Virginia Tech. And before that it was Penn State. So it's hard for us to put Syracuse at that same level. And I think (even despite the last 2 years) given the last decade, some of the luster has worn off the series since the McNabb years. I guess what I'm trying to say is that WVU fans generally view Syracuse as a good regional opponent that we will miss playing, but the Orange will never be Pitt or Virginia Tech.
West Virginia's roughly a four-point favorite. How you feeling about that and what's your prediction for the game?
I think that sounds about right. This game has all the trappings of a shootout, with Ryan Nassib passing for several miles and a baker's dozen of touchdowns against our porous secondary. And I truly believe that the offense will come out ready to roll after taking a few weeks off and giving Holgorsen time to scheme. The weather may end up being a factor, though, and I think that favors Syracuse. I'd also give the edge to Syracuse in motivation. It's just hard for me to imagine losing three straight games in this series given how even the teams seem to match-up. I never pick against my Mountaineers, either. I think we win by a touchdown then destroy the Shwartzwalder trophy with a remote detonator.