NEW YORK – The forecast for the Pinstripe Bowl calls for snow and scoring.
West Virginia and Syracuse play today at Yankee Stadium in a matchup of former Big East rivals and NFL-prospect quarterbacks.
Snow is expected to fall in the New York area throughout the day, with accumulations of about 3 inches. Maybe that will help the defenses slow down a couple of offenses that have been among the best in the country this season.
“There are two factors that matter: It’s wind, and it’s wet,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday during a news conference with Syracuse coach Doug Marrone at Yankee Stadium. “Snow doesn’t bother us much. If the wind’s blowing, that makes us miserable.”
In that case, the news should be good. The forecast calls for no more than light gusts of about 10 mph.
Marrone said his only concern was making sure there were enough shovels and workers on the field to clear the snow so the sideline and yard markers were visible.
“I already went to Home Depot,” chimed in Yankees executive Mark Holtzman, who is in charge of running the 3-year-old bowl.
In that case, let it snow.
“That’s what makes football fun,” said Marrone, the Bronx native and Yankees fan who is in his fourth season as head coach of his alma mater. “The only time you cancel a game is if there is lightning. Other than that, the one thing we know for sure is we’re playing.”
And if West Virginia is playing, that means points will be plentiful. The Mountaineers have scored at least 31 points 10 times this season. Six times in a West Virginia game, the losing team has scored at least 34 points.
Syracuse has shown it should be able to keep up. The Orange (7-5) averaged 36 points a game while winning five of their last six. Cold and snow shouldn’t faze the Orange, but remember, they do play in a dome.
“You can say I’m used to this weather because I’m from Syracuse, but a lot of times we don’t play in this weather,” quarterback Ryan Nassib said. “When it’s windy and the elements are bad, you just have to make more careful reads.”
Another high-scoring affair would be an appropriate way for West Virginia to finish what has been a wild first season in the Big 12 for the Mountaineers, who fled the Big East after last year.
The Mountaineers (7-5) won their first five games this year, including a 70-63 head-spinner against Baylor and a 48-45 thriller at Texas. At that point, they were ranked fifth in the country, quarterback Geno Smith was the Heisman Trophy front-runner and Morgantown was rocking.
Five straight losses followed as West Virginia’s defensive problems could no longer be masked.
The Mountaineers rallied to finish the season with victories at Iowa State and at home against Kansas.
Holgorsen credited his upperclassmen, especially Smith and talented receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, with helping West Virginia recover.
“They did keep pressing forward,” he said. “That’s what good players and true leaders do, they step up and say let’s try to change some things.”
Not much needed to change offensively. Smith and the Mountaineers are eighth in the nation in total offense at 518 yards a game. Smith has thrown for 4,004 yards and 40 touchdowns, and both Bailey and Austin had more than 1,000 yards receiving. Bailey, a junior who has already said he will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, has 23 touchdown receptions.
West Virginia’s defense has been as bad as its offense has been good. The Mountaineers rank 123rd (out of 124) in the nation against the pass.
“Just because of what they have done throughout the year, or what they haven’t done, doesn’t mean they won’t be ready,” Nassib said.
While Smith has gotten plenty of publicity and is expected to be an early round NFL draft pick – maybe even the first quarterback taken – Nassib has been almost as good with far less fanfare.
“Ryan’s a great quarterback,” said Smith, who lost twice to the Orange while playing in the Big East. “He’s put Syracuse on the map again. I appreciate his game. He’s a great competitor.”
Nassib has thrown for 3,619 yards and 24 touchdowns, and NFL scouts are well aware of the senior’s strong arm and athleticism. Running an up-tempo style offense that is similar to – though not quite as fast as – West Virginia’s, the Orange are 21st in the nation in total offense at 473 yards per game.
Syracuse will say goodbye to the Big East, too, after this game. Next season, the Orange will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Will the Pinstripe Bowl be next to separate with the Big East? The bowl’s contract with the Big East and Big 12 has one more year.
Holtzman said it’s too soon to speculate what conferences the game will align itself with down the road, but he said he was confident in the game’s future.
“We expect this game,” he said, “to be part of the bowl landscape for a long time.”