When I step back and think about the reaction from a lot of Minnesota Golden Gophers fans on their team playing the 6-6 Syracuse Orange in the 2013 Texas Bowl, I think of two things.
1. I totally understand why they think it's going to be a cakewalk.
2. West Virginia fans acted the exact same way. How'd that work out?
On paper, Minnesota is a better team than Syracuse. They're 8-4, we're 6-6. They beat Penn State & Northwestern. We lost to Penn State & Northwestern. Their SOS was 51st, ours was 68th. They've seen the Clemson game, the FSU game and the Georgia Tech game.
By just about every statistic and record, they're ahead. They should win.
But of course, they don't play Texas Bowls on paper. They play Texas Bowls in Reliant Stadium in Houston at an agree-upon date late in December.
And the problem with thinking that you play games on paper is that it means you're not doing your homework. And you're not really paying attention.
It means Minnesota fans haven't watched the team progress in recent weeks. They haven't seen Terrel Hunt go from Warm Body Barely Holding Football into a somewhat-competent quarterback. They haven't watch the running game find its footing (pun intended) as Jerome Smith, Devante McFarlane and George Morris II have solidified into a solid trio. They don't know how Alvin Cornelius and Josh Parris have gone from back-ups to meaningful starters. They don't know exactly how our defense has settled down and figured out how to match-up with a physical offensive line and big-time running back.
They also probably don't realize this team is different than the one that played Penn State in Week 1, and considering the Orange should have won that game even then, they'd probably win that game now. They don't know Scott Shafer is a better head coach since then. They really don't know that OC George McDonald is starting to figure things out.
Of course, the opposite of thinking games are played on paper is thinking that games are played paperless. I'm not so delusional that I would be surprised if Minnesota won the game. They're a solid club and they present a lot of issues for the Orange. It's going to take a great performance from SU to win this game.
But we know the Orange are capable. And we know that, multiple times this season, when it seemed like the momentum was going in the opposite direction, they won (BC). When we didn't think SU had it in them, they won (NC State). When we didn't think winning away from the Dome against a decent team was possible, they won (Maryland).
I can't predict what's going to happen in the Texas Bowl. I just know that what some pieces of paper tell me about the two teams isn't going to tell me who the winner will be.