Teams: No. 17 Syracuse Orange (9-3, 6-2) vs. No. 15 West Virginia Mountaineers (8-3, 6-3)
Date & Time: Friday, December 28, 5:15 p.m. ET
Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Line: Started at Syracuse +7, but with the important absences for the West Virginia offense, that’s since trended to the Orange being favored by 1.5 points.
TV/Streaming: ESPN and WatchESPN
Radio: Cuse.com, TK 99/105, WAER 88.3, SiriusXM: 955 (home), 84 (away), 80 (national)
West Virginia blog: The Smoking Musket
Rivalry: 33-27, Syracuse leads
Current Streak: 3, Orange
First Meeting: Before they began to meet on an annual basis in 1955, the two programs took the eventual rivalry for a trial run in 1945. Syracuse shut out the hapless ‘Eers, 12-0 at Archbold Stadium. It was the lone win on the season for the Orangemen, while West Virginia was 2-6-1.
Last Meeting: Syracuse stomped WVU, 38-14 in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl. After leaving the Big East, the Mountaineers began their first season in the Big 12 just outside of the top 10, rising to No. 5 after two top-25 wins in the first five games of the year. But they’d lose five straight after the 5-0 opening, before winning the last two and setting up a battle of 7-5 former rivals in the Bronx. The Orange, who struggled to start the season, finished firing on all cylinders and fresh off a tie for the Big East conference title.
SU got off to a slower start in snowy Yankee stadium, but still led 12-7 at the half. They’d score 23 in the third quarter and the Orange defense suffocated Geno Smith & Co. from there — just as they had the previous two seasons against Dana Holgorsen’s club.
Head Coaches: SU: Dino Babers (3rd year, 17-19); West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen (8th year, 61-40)
Coach Bio: “Holgo” played at Iowa Western in the early 90s, before moving on to coaching at Valdosta State from 1993-95. After additional stints at Mississippi College and Wingate, Mike Leach (whom he’d worked with at Valdosta) brought him aboard at Texas Tech. Holgorsen coached wide receivers from 2000-04, then held the co-offensive coordinator gig from 2005-07. He spent two seasons as OC at Houston, then another one at Oklahoma State, before taking over the West Virginia gig in 2011.
Since arriving in Morgantown, he’s picked up two top-25 finishes and two 10-win seasons (2011, 2016). His high-scoring Mountaineers were the team that scored 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, leading to the Tigers hiring Brent Venables as their defensive coordinator. So if you ever wanted to know who to blame for Clemson’s current reign of terror over the ACC, might want to look Holgo’s way.
No mention of Holgo can avoid his numerous drinking-related incidents or his devout consumption of Red Bull. He’s quite the character.
Last Year: WVU began the season in the top 25, but fell to Virginia Tech in the opener. They’d earn their way back in at the bottom, but kept losing the next game nearly every time they’d get back in around No. 22/23. The Mountaineers’ 7-3 start was erased from memory after dropping the final three games of the season, including the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Utah beat them 30-14.
Last Game: With a Big 12 championship trip on the line, West Virginia lost a shootout to Oklahoma by a score of 59-56. As you can tell, neither team stopped the other from doing much, as they combined for over 1,300 yards. The Mountaineers actually led 49-45 after three quarters, but the Sooners reeled off two straight touchdowns to take the lead for good. WVU cut the lead to three with four minutes left, but just couldn’t get any closer.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: With quarterback Will Grier sitting this one out to prepare for the NFL Draft, the man to watch is David Sills V. Fellow top receiver Greg Jennings Jr. won’t be playing in this game either, so if the WVU passing game is going to do anything at all, it rests on Sills. He had 61 catches for 896 yards and 15 scores this year — and had 60 receptions for 980 and 18 touchdowns in 2017. He’s a monster in the red zone and no matter who’s throwing for West Virginia, the gameplan likely rests heavily on him.
If Syracuse Wins: The Orange win 10 games for the first time since 2001 and assure a spot in the final top 25 rankings. Bowl games don’t matter, but a 10-win season certainly does. And Dino Babers and his staff will be able to point to that success when out on the recruiting trail to (likely) increasing effect.
If Syracuse Loses: It’s still a great season at 9-4, and we still have an ability to point to greater near-term success than most of our peers in the Northeast (PSU aside). Considering we were thinking 6-6 or so before 2018 started, we’re already drowning in gravy. Losing to a Grier-less WVU would be a bit of a bummer, but SU is also missing a couple key pieces.
Fun Fact No. 1: Six degrees of Kevin Sumlin connects these two coaches pretty easily. Kevin Sumlin replaced Dino Babers as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator in 2002, and Sumlin also hired Hologrsen when he was the head coach at Houston. Holgo and Babers have never met, however.
Fun Fact No. 2: From 2002-09, West Virginia quarterbacks were 8-0 against Syracuse. But Geno Smith managed to lose all three games in increasingly disastrous fashion. His futility against Doug Marrone-led teams continued into the NFL. In two years as the Jets’ quarterback, he was 1-3 against the Bills (coached by Marrone at the time).