Familiar Foes Syracuse and West Virginia will lock horns in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl Saturday, as each program looks to take the next step in assimilating towards a new conference. The game will make a big impact on the perception of each team in its current state, as well as its future in terms of recruiting. Each program sports the same 7-5 record heading into the tilt, and certain recruiting trends within each former Big East member are mirrored while adjustments to new landscapes are being made in the process.
Smith, Nassib recruited on separate ends with same destination
Nassib and Smith came from very different places to end up in a similar one. Now, both are NFL prospects who had huge years during their final season with their respective clubs. Now, two of the best quarterbacks in the country will face off in what will be the final game for both at the college level.
However, the start to their career could not have been more different. Geno Smith was a 4-star prospect who could have gone just about anywhere. He held offers from Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Michigan, and others. Ultimately, he chose West Virginia and he's been the starting quarterback ever since. Smith has proved to be worth all of his accolades coming out of high school as he has improved each year with the Mountaineers. That culminated with a monstrous senior season where he was arguably the best quarterback in the country.
Ryan Nassib's journey was quite different. He was not heavily recruited and was only a 2-star prospect out of high school. His only offer was from Syracuse, and he jumped on that opportunity. As a redshirt freshman, he was named the starter in the spring. But the sudden transfer of Greg Paulus forced Nassib to take a step back. He waited patiently and took the reigns during the 2010 season. Nassib has been the starter ever since, and grown into an NFL draft pick.
Entering their senior seasons, expectations were once again on opposite ends of the spectrum. Geno Smith was supposed to lead West Virginia to a BCS Bowl Game, while the goal for Ryan Nassib was to simply become bowl eligible. Smith's team did not live up to expectations, finishing 7-5. Nassib's squad tied for the conference title, but also finished 7-5. Despite different accolades out of high school and expectations for the 2012 season, both signal callers have ended up in the same position. Starting the Pinstripe Bowl as a senior.
Ryan Nassib is 2-0 as a starter against Smith despite the different accolades coming out of high school. Despite vastly different expectations, both have turned out gaudy senior seasons. Smith had a huge first half of the year, while Nassib led his team to a 5-1 second half. Now the two face off for the third time as starters looking to cap off their college careers with a win.
Adjusting to a new conference
With WVU wrapping-up its initial Big 12 season and Syracuse preparing for its initial ACC campaign, both programs have had to adjust their recruitment more towards the trends and specifications of their conference's style of play.
West Virginia has always thrived on speed and athleticism over size and power, so their move to the Big 12 fit schematically. However, facing Big East offenses compared to that of the Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State-type teams of the world has brought much scrutiny to one of the nation's worst defenses. Athleticism and speed helped to mask the flaw against lower-tier competition, but it has been grossly exposed in 2012.
The Mountaneers finished the regular season ranked 107th overall in total defense, 119th in pass defense and 114th in scoring defense in allowing over 38 points per game. The WVU offense, however, was as dominant as ever posting top-10 marks in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense. So the conference shift has stymied opposing defenses as much as it has their own.
In recruiting, it has been made evident that defense is a priority. The Mountaineer staff is selling early playing time on that end of the field as it continues to assimilate towards facing spread offense after spread offense as opposed to the more traditional looks of the Big East. As the team learned throughout the 2012 season, it cannot simply out-score every team it faces. With 11 commits currently projected to play on the defensive side of the ball, it is apparent that the staff is attempting to adjust with bigger safeties like JUCO product Terrell Pinson and Floridian Malik Greaves as well as versatile linebackers that can play the run or rush the passer like another JUCO standout in D'Vante Henry and a trio of others that have verbaled to WVU.
The Junior College route is something both programs have focused on in the 2013 cycle, again helping with the transition to a new league sooner rather than later in courting experienced players as opposed to developmental ones. WVU brought in five JUCOs in their last three recruiting cycles combined, and it already has five on board in the 2013 go-round. Syracuse is also seeing unprecedented JUCO numbers, reeling in six JC prospects and counting in the 2013 cycle while signing just seven over the previous three classes.
Conference shapes have caused WVU to get better on the defensive end in a hurry, while Syracuse has shifted to a speedy and much more athletic league. It has reflected in their recruitment of normal pipeline targets in New York State, but the JUCO route has been one of seeking under-the-radar talent with top-notch measurables and speed at the skill positions to combat ACC pipelines.
Head-to-Head battles: 2013 class
While each program has had to adjust to new surroundings in the Big 12 and ACC, respectively, it doesn't mean the former conference-mates haven't been seeking the same type of talent at certain positions.
D'Vante Henry, one of the aforementioned JUCOs, was being recruited hard by SU before selecting WVU last week.
Al-Rasheed Benton, another linebacker, held both Syracuse and West Virginia in his final five before selecting the Mountaineers three weeks after taking an official visit to Morgantown in October. SU never got him on campus.
Marqez Hodge surprised many when he selected SU over West Virginia and several others in the summer.
Laray Smith remains undeclared at this time, as he continues to wait on a WVU offer. As Syracuse stands on top for the three-star RBs services, the Eers may be moved on from as he is set to announce his commitment next week.
CuseNation.com's John Garcia Jr. and Mike McAllister contributed to this report