As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m. ET
About West Virginia: West Virginia's season began like a dream. There was the top-5 ranking, the road win over Big 12 power Texas and the 5-0 start with quarterback Geno Smith atop everyone's Heisman ballots. Then came the nightmare in the form of a five-game losing streak, something the majority of the roster had never experienced, certainly not in college and likely not at any other level of football. The defense ranks just 111th nationally and clearly struggled in a Big 12 well-stocked with high-powered offenses. West Virginia's got one of its own, but a few rough games got the losing streak started, and the Mountaineers couldn't end it until they faced the Big 12's two worst teams to close the season, Iowa State and Kansas. It's been awhile since WVU had a résumé-boosting win, but for my money, beating Syracuse in the last game of the season would count.
About Syracuse: The Orange rallied late this season after a 2-4 start to win five of their final six games, and just like they did to WVU last year, Syracuse busted up the Orange Bowl-bound, Big East champions. This time around, it was Louisville, but Syracuse knocked off the Cardinals by 19 points. That final stretch, including a road win at Missouri to bring the Big East to 3-0 against the SEC this season, landed Syracuse in an in-state bowl game against its old rivals in the Big East. Syracuse knocked off Kansas State in this game two years ago. This should be another great rendition of the fledgling bowl.
Mountaineers to watch: We'll get to the high-octane offense in a bit, but West Virginia already shook up its defensive staff. Will we see a difference after the 15 bowl practices with Keith Patterson in charge of the defense and cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts gone? If we do, expect it to start with freshman phenom Karl Joseph at safety. On offense, expect the same old drill. Tavon Austin is probably the most talented player on the roster, and certainly its most electrifying, but the offense runs around quarterback Geno Smith. If the Mountaineers get inside the red zone, Syracuse might want to try to cover Stedman Bailey. The receiver has caught 23 touchdowns, seven more than any player in the country and more than 70 teams in college football.
Orange to watch: No doubt about it, Syracuse will challenge West Virginia's offense just as much as a lot of Big 12 offenses. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is one of the nation's best with an NFL future. The Orange boast a 3,000-yard passer in Nassib, a 1,000-yard rusher in Jerome Smith and a 1,000-yard receiver in Alec Lemon. That kind of balance is always difficult to match up with, and West Virginia will surely have to score a load of points to keep up with the Orange.
Did you know? Syracuse raised a stink when it announced it would not put the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy up for grabs in this rivalry game, but the Big 12 needs a break in this game. The three-year-old game has been won by the Big East each season. Last year, Rutgers beat Iowa State. In the previous season, Kansas State lost to Syracuse after a controversial flag. Another ominous note for the Big 12? Syracuse is 6-1 all-time at Yankee Stadium. West Virginia is 3-1, but hasn't played there since 1947, when it beat NYU.