College Football Picks: Syracuse vs. Minnesota in Texas Bowl

LT Profits Sports Group

Monday, December 9, 2013 5:00 AM GMT

The Syracuse Orange and Minnesota Golden Gophers both run the ball well, but the underdog Orange have crucial edges in rushing defense and third down defense.

The points seem worth taking in a potential upset when the Syracuse Orange (6-6) take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) in the Texas Bowl from Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX on Friday, December 27th at 6:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Syracuse as a moderate underdog for this contest with the current line at +4½ with odds of -106.

Syracuse went 6-6 overall and a respectable 4-4 in conference play in their first season ever in the ACC, but the Orange saved their best for last by edging the Boston College Eagles 34-31 in their season finale on a touchdown pass by Terrel Hunt with six seconds remaining, evening their mark to become bowl eligible!

Minnesota became bowl eligible much sooner as the Golden Gophers finished at 8-4, but they do not have as much momentum as the Orange do as the Gophers lost their final two games with the offense scoring a grand total of 10 points. That goes to show how vulnerable Minnesota can be when its running game gets stopped, and Syracuse also seems equipped to slow the Gophers down.

Both of these offenses are very similar and they are both one-dimensional rushing attacks. Syracuse finished the regular season 39th in the country in rushing at 194.2 yards per game, and they did that with three players including the quarterback Hunt rushing for at least 400 yards. Jerome Smith is still the go-to back though as he finished with 840 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry, but Prince-Tyson Gulley actually averaged 5.6 yards while rushing for 446.

Just as important in regards to this game though has been the performance of the Syracuse defense. The Orange are 39th in the country in total defense including 27th in rushing defense, allowing 138.4 yards per game on the ground on just 3.8 yards per carry, so they should be able to put Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson in many third and long situations.

Nelson is a suspect passer that completed a mere 51.4 percent of his passes this year while throwing for just 1288 yards with only nine touchdown passes, and on top of that he would be trying to convert vs. an Orange defense ranked 10th in the country in third down defense allowing just a 32.1-percent success rate.

The Gophers were rolling along at 8-2 before their last two losses, although to be fair those defeats did come at the hands of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Still, while Syracuse is not on par with those teams overall, the Orange run defense is certainly good enough to put the clamps on the Gophers’ leading rusher David Cobbs, who finished with 1111 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry.

On the other side of the ball the Minnesota defense could have a tougher time stopping the Syracuse running game, as the Gophers are allowing 154 rushing yards per game on a more generous 4.5 yards per carry.

As long as Syracuse keeps its penalties to a minimum, which has not always been the case for a team ranked 109th in the nation in penalty yards, the Orange should have an excellent chance at an upset here by stopping the Minnesota run on first and second downs.

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College Football Pick: Syracuse +4½ (-106)