NEW YORK CITY-West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) and Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East) have met every year on the football field since 1955.
But, today's 3:15 p.m. showdown at Yankee Stadium in the third annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl represents the first time the two former conference rivals will have met in the postseason. The game will be televised on ESPN with Chris Fowler doing the play-by-play, Jesse Palmer the analysis and Tom Rinaldi roaming the sidelines.
The Orange hold the edge in the overall series by a 32-27 margin-the teams split a pair of meetings from 1945-46-but, the Mountaineers have come out on top in eight of the last 10 contests. Those two losses, however, came during their last two encounters-19-14 in Morgantown in 2010 and 49-23 at the Carrier Dome last year.
Since 1993, the winner of this matchup claimed ownership of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. Today's champion will take home the George Steinbrenner Trophy.
"We have to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter if it's turnovers or scoring opportunities," said WVU second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen. "You just can't predict a score. You just try to take advantage of every opportunity."
Not only will predicting a score be a problem, but predicting what the weather will be at kickoff will be even more difficult.
West Virginia (7-5)
vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Game time: 3:15 p.m. today
Place: At Yankee Stadium, New York.
Line: West Virginia by 3 1/2.
QB Geno Smith and WRs Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin against Syracuse's pass defense and veteran secondary. The Orange rank 63rd in the nation in sacks and 65th in yards passing allowed. Not terrible, but this will be as tough a test as All-Big East S Shamarko Thomas and the Orange defensive backs have faced this season. Snow is expected in the New York area today, so maybe that will slow down the prolific Mountaineers. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia's defense ranks 123rd in the nation against the pass so clearly it could use any help it can get.
"I've become the weatherman lately," said WVU's coach. "Wind and wet are two factors (that are difficult with which to deal). Snow doesn't bother as much. Ames, Iowa, was about the most miserable situation I have been in, 30 degrees and the wind really blowing.
"But, our guys are used to it. You have a game plan, you stick with it."
The game features two of the top quarterbacks, statistically, in the country.
Syracuse's Ryan Nassib has completed 283-of-448 passes for 3,619 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions while WVU's Geno Smith closed out his final season in Morgantown by connecting on 350-of-490 attempts for 4,004 yards and 40 touchdowns with only six picks.
Both signal-caller have a trio of talented pass catchers to throw to as well.
Nassib will look to Alex Lemon, who has 70 receptions for 1,063 yards and seven scores, as well as Marcus Sales (63-863, 8 TD) and Jarrod West (42-571, 2 TD). Smith's primary weapons include seniors Tavon Austin (110-1,259, 12 TD) and J.D. Woods (56-596, 4 TD) and junior Stedman Bailey (106-1,501, 23 TD).
The game's outcome, however, may rest on which team's offense can sustain a running attack and upon which defense can make enough plays to keep the other team out of the end zone.
West Virginia's rushing attack has transformed during the season with senior Shawne Alston (67-371, 7 TD) starting the season as if he might become the team's next 1,000-yard rusher, but then being forced to watch from the sideline with a deep thigh bruise as the Mountaineers struggled in their first season in the Big 12.
Holgorsen and his staff made a dramatic move against Oklahoma, putting Austin (61-598, 3 TD) in the backfield, and the strategy worked as the Baltimore native set a single-game school rushing record against the Sooners.
The most steady running back for the old gold and blue has been sophomore Andrew Buie (172-817, 7 TD) while fellow sophomore Dustin Garrison (46-207) gives WVU another option in the backfield.
Syracuse will counter with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith (198-1,019, 3 TD) as well Prince-Tyson Gulley (132-617, 7 TD) and Ashton Broyld (36-171, 2 TD).
Defensively, the Orange have the better numbers, holding teams to 385.1 yards per game (148.2 rushing and 236.9 passing), and 25.7 points per contest. But, since moving Keith Patterson to the coordinator's job on defense, West Virginia's numbers on defense have been slowly improving.
Improved enough to stop Nassib and Company? Only time will tell. But, then again, can the Orange's defense slow down WVU's 'Air Raid' attack?