The West Virginia Mountaineers take on the Syracuse Orange in what is sure to be an exciting Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.
The Mountaineers entered the season with big expectations, even reaching as high as fifth in the rankings. But they were plagued by a woeful defense, and they stumbled to 7-5 in their first year in the Big 12.
Syracuse, on the other hand, is coming in on a hot streak. The Orange have won their last three games, including an upset win over then-No. 9 Louisville.
These two teams used to meet annually before West Virginia bolted for the Big 12. They last met in 2011, where West Virginia won 49-23.
While both teams have not had the best of years, they do feature a ton of talented players, many of them pro prospects. Which of these players will shine the brightest in Yankee Stadium?
Read on to find out.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Tavon Austin has had a fantastic career for the Mountaineers and looks poised to cap it off with another big performance.
Austin caught 110 balls for 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns this year. In addition, he rushed for 598 yards on only 61 carries. He also had two return touchdowns.
Austin is nearly impossible to cover and should have a field day against Syracuse's average defense. The Orange give up nearly 26 points a game and have struggled against high-profile receivers, including giving up 200 all-purpose yards to USC star Robert Woods.
This could be a fun game for Austin, who has the chance to leave a lasting impression on the minds of NFL scouts. Look for Austin to have a huge day.
Ryan Nassib, QB Syracuse
Ryan Nassib has been one of the better quarterbacks in Syracuse history. Consider this: In the past 10 seasons before Nassib arrived, the Orange reached only two bowl games. In three seasons as starter, Nassib has led his team to two bowl games.
Impressive stuff for a program that has struggled for years. Without big-name stars, Nassib has put up really good numbers. He's thrown for 3,619 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
Nassib will be licking his chops to go up against a really poor West Virginia secondary. Out of 124 D-1 teams, West Virginia is ranked 117th in points allowed. Yikes. The Mountaineers gave up 63 points to Baylor and 55 to Oklahoma State.
Nassib has the chance to have a big day. He'll target receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales early and often and put up a lot of points. While regarded as a midround pick, Nassib could put on a performance that could catapult him near the top of the quarterback rankings in the 2013 NFL draft.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
While his teammate Austin has been great, Stedman Bailey might have been even better. Bailey totaled 106 catches for 1,501 yards and a whopping 23 touchdowns.
Bailey is more of a traditional receiver, and the two have combined to make defensive coordinators sweat at night. This game will be no different. Bailey and Austin will be impossible to cover for an average Syracuse defense.
Bailey and Austin can share the load and each get their fair share of receptions. Look for Austin to get some of the shorter, quicker plays, while Bailey looks to challenge the Orange defense over the top.
Either way, NFL scouts will be drooling over the potential of both receiving prospects, but especially Bailey, who projects as more of durable and reliable weapon in the pros.
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Jerome Smith flies under the radar, but he has had a really nice season for Syracuse. He's rushed for 1,019 yards on 198 carries, a gaudy 5.1 yards per attempt.
He's only scored three times, but that's due more to Syracuse's depth at running back. Regardless, Smith is a big, tough running back who is difficult to bring down between the tackles.
He'll enjoy going up against West Virginia's leaky defense, which can't seem to stop a beach ball rolling in the sand on a lazy summer afternoon.
While all the attention will be on Nassib, look for Smith to catch the eye of more than a few NFL scouts as he puts in another solid performance
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith has had a terrific career for the Mountaineers and will look to finish it in style. Smith was absolutely remarkable this year, throwing for 4,004 yards, 40 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Smith can explode during games, as evidenced by his 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance against Baylor. While those numbers may be hard to replicate, Smith will still have a big game against Syracuse.
Syracuse's defense is not great and has given up a lot of points to high-powered offenses. It gave up 42 points to USC and even gave up 36 to South Florida.
With West Virginia averaging 41 points per game, look for Smith to have a huge day. He'll find it easy throwing to Austin and Bailey and will finish his career with another incredible performance.
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