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NCAA Football American Athletic ConferenceBig 12 FootballSyracuse OrangeWest Virginia Mountaineers

2012 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The West Virginia Mountaineers will be facing the Syracuse Orange in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on December 29th.

The Mountaineers finished the season at 7-5 (4-5 in Big 12 play), and eighth in the Big 12 standings, but ended the season on a high note, winning its last two games after a five game skid.

They enter the game with the sixth best passing attack and the seventh most points scored per game in the nation.

Syracuse also finished 7-5 (5-2 in Big East play), and fourth in the Big East standings winning five of its last six games. Syracuse enters with the 21st best passing attack, which could do damage against one of the worst pass defenses in the country.

What to Watch For:

1) WVU Center Joe Madsen has been declared ineligible for this game.

Look to see how much pressure Syracuse will put on quarterback Geno Smith. Smith has shown to be ineffective when the line doesn’t give him at least some time to throw.

Also watch how this will affect WVU’s running game, as the air raid offense can be fueled by a strong rushing attack.

2) Bad Blood

WVU and Syracuse renew a rivalry that has been played every year since 1955. The former conference opponents know each other well, and will not shy away from physical play.

WVU is looking to seek revenge for the last two meetings between the two, where Syracuse won both games.

Watch for physical play on all sides of the ball from both teams.

3) Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey

Look for WVU receiver/tailback Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith to have big days, as both are projected as first round NFL picks. Some early mock drafts have Smith being selected as the number one overall pick to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the best quarterback in this year’s draft.

Austin is projected as a late first round pick. Look for him to have a huge game against one of the weaker defenses the Mountaineers have faced all season and try to improve his draft stock.

WVU receiver Stedman Bailey has recently announced his intentions to declare for the NFL draft after the game. This will be his last chance to impress NFL scouts in a college game, so look for him to be at his best.

Key Player:

Today’s key player is actually a group of players. In order for WVU to have an easy win, the WVU offensive line must perform better than it has in recent weeks.

Without Joe Madsen, the line must still find a way to protect Geno Smith. If Geno Smith has time to throw against Syracuse he will torch the secondary all day.

Effective protection for Smith could create a big day for the Mountaineers.

My Prediction:

West Virginia should win big over Syracuse. The key word in that phrase is “should”. WVU has much more talent on the field than Syracuse, and has been tested in a much stronger conference.

This will be a great opportunity to see how big of a difference the conferences are. Syracuse is fourth in the Big East and WVU is eighth in the Big 12. If WVU runs away with this game, it could shed some serious light as to where it could’ve finished were it still in the Big East.

I think the WVU offense has too many weapons for Syracuse to shut down. WVU wins big 52-21.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeAtkinsonRS or visit his Rant Sports Author Page.