Friday, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando
Free NCAAF Pick: West Virginia ML and ‚Over’
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and left tackle Yodny Cajuste will skip the bowl in order to prepare for the NFL draft. The Mountaineers had been favored by a touchdown and, because of their departure, the ML has become cheap. Replacement quarterback Jack Allison was one of the most highly-rated pro-style quarterbacks because he already throws with anticipation and has a strong arm plus accurate touch. Replacement left tackle Kelby Wickline played 51 snaps against Texas after Cajuste’s ejection. He faced an NFL-caliber defensive end, but didn’t allow any pressure.
Quarterback Eric Dungey will play his last game for Syracuse. Dungey is known for being ultra competitive and would probably sell his soul and a box of donuts to go out on top.
How They Got Here
Although Michigan coined the „revenge tour” slogan, Syracuse’s was actually successful. Last year, the Orange lost to Florida State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Louisville, and NC State and, this year, it beat all of those teams by double digits. Despite playing Clemson, its only big loss was against Notre Dame. West Virginia suffered a clunker at Iowa State. It lost its other two games by combined seven points-at Oklahoma State, which was incredibly successful as a home underdog, and against #4 Oklahoma. Syracuse was second in the ACC Atlantic behind Clemson. WVU was third in the Big 12.
Why Syracuse Can Win/Cover
Dungey is a gamer. This bowl game will mean extra to him because its his first and last one. Although he is arguably more known for his running ability-he has achieved 732 rushing yards on 4.4 YPC-he can succeed against a Mountaineer secondary that ranks 111th in opposing passing yards. Syracuse is 4-1 ATS when scoring 50+ points.
WVU doesn’t fit the profile of teams that have covered against Syracuse-teams like UNC, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame that are run-first and used the run game to dominate time of possession and keep Cuse’s offense off the field. WVU ranks 113th in run play percentage.
Why West Virginia Can Win/Cover
Syracuse’s pass defense ranks 112th in opposing yards per game without having to face the quality that tested the ‘Neers- like Heisman winner Kyler Murray. When the Orange faced Clemson, Clemson’s quarterback was injured and its third-stringer led it to victory. The Mountaineers’ backup quarterback can do the same against a Syracuse secondary that has embarrassed itself against high-level wide receivers like NC State’s Kelvin Harmon, who achieved 247 receiving yards, and Wake Forest’s Greg Dortch, who accrued 95 receiving yards with a quarterback who can’t throw downfield. The Mountaineers are 3-0-1 ATS when scoring at least 47 points.
Common Opponents/Series History
Both faced a playoff team. Notre Dame blew out Syracuse, 36-3. Oklahoma’s defense is much softer than Notre Dame’s, but its offense outpaced WVU’s 59-56.
West Virginia’s elite receivers will play in the bowl game and up their draft stock. Gary Jennings and David Sills have combined for 115 receptions, 1,813 yards, and 28 touchdowns. They will be too much for Syracuse’s secondary, especially with a quarterback throwing to them that has the necessary physical tools and a month to prepare. Cuse’s pass defense numbers speak even too positively for Cuse’s secondary because of how strong the Orange pass rush is. But when Syracuse’s defense wasn’t able to achieve pressure, it allowed first-year starting quarterbacks like UNC’s Nathan Elliot to achieve a season-best in yardage. Jack Allison will be supported by an offensive line that is top-50 in sack rate and three running backs who average between five and six YPC.
Both teams will put up a lot of points. WVU’s offense is more explosive, (it ranks fifth in IsoPPP+) while Syracuse is more efficient. But the Orange move even more up-tempo than West Virginia. The Mountaineers will have an easier time moving the ball with its weapons in the passing game- whereas Dungey is not a consistent passer. Syracuse is not used to facing such a high-level and balanced offense, whereas WVU is used to playing in an up-tempo shootout because it’s in the Big 12.