PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
Patrick took a slim one-point lead over Keno at the top, while Matt and Chris maintained their dead heat in the race for third.
No one managed to crack the double-digit barrier in the total points prediction, as last week's picks marked one of the worst collective efforts of the year by the group. With West Virginia expected to be favored in most of its games down the stretch, that race will prove vital in determining our champion.
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 65|
One moment from the 2009 season stuck out to me all offseason and came to my mind again this week when I started thinking about WVU's match-up with the Orange.
It was on the field at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati last season, just moments after the eventual Big East Conference champion Bearcats had beaten West Virginia 24-21. A reporter asked Mountaineer fullback Ryan Clarke about the toughness of UC's defense compared to that of the other teams WVU had faced that season. To paraphrase, Clarke said that while Cincinnati's defense was good, it wasn't the best in the Big East. So, the reporter asked, which team has the toughest defense in the league? "Syracuse," Clarke said, without the slightest of hesitation.
It was an answer I found odd, especially given that Clarke and company had scored 34 points against the 'Cuse with what seemed to be relative ease in a blowout win at the Carrier Dome several weeks earlier.
But between Clarke's proclamation from almost a year ago and head coach Bill Stewart's vivid recollection of something so seemingly trivial as the way SU players fought to block Tyler Bitancurt's point-after kick that gave West Virginia its 34th point last season, it seems that WVU still holds a healthy respect for the Orange in spite of that program's struggles in the past decade.
Maybe those things show up in more exhaustive review of game film than writers like me perform. But there are plenty of reasons the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy has hardly seen the light of day in upstate New York since the turn of the millennium, and while SU has made strides under head coach Doug Marrone, its program isn't quite ready to win games like this one just yet.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-13|
|Keenan Cummings||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 66|
|After getting past those pesky bulls, a date with Syracuse looms. Now I know Syracuse has looked better this season, but I still don't see how West Virginia lose this game at home. I expect to be locked into a battle early, but pull away late.|
|Pick: West Virginia 31-10|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 83|
West Virginia should be able to better move the football on the ground. If it can give Geno Smith time to read and react, the offense should be fine. Smith hasn't shown a propensity to force throws, and indeed has played beyond his experience level.
Syracuse's secondary is good, and its overall defensive abilities are far upgraded from previous seasons. If WVU can't run the ball, it could struggle to pass downfield enough to loosen the linebackers.
Defensively, the Mountaineers match-up well with the Orange. The key battle is Chris Neild and Ryan Bartholomew. Win the line of scrimmage equates to largely winning the battle on this side of the ball. West Virginia's pressure, experience and back end play should be enough.
The Mountaineers need to tackle well to keep tailback Delone Carter from giving quarterback Ryan Nassib comfortable, convertible third downs. Get ‘em down, get off the field, get the ball back to the Mountaineer offense. That and a sound special teams game should be enough for the win here - but closer than some expect.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-13|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 83|
Syracuse is something of a Jekyll and Hyde under second-year head coach Doug Marrone. You can't dispute the fact that the Orange have vastly improved under the guidance of Marrone, a former SU offensive lineman who has instilled toughness, discipline and passion back into this once-mighty program. There is a very good chance that, come December, Syracuse could find itself in a bowl game for the first time since the end of the 2004 season. That being said, however, there is still plenty of work to do as the Orange come to Morgantown licking their wounds fresh off a thrashing at the hands of Pitt last weekend.
It will be interested to see how the WVU passing game stacks up against the SU secondary. Even if Geno Smith and the passing game struggle, its hard to imagine the Orange putting up a ton of points on this lights out Mountaineer defense. For yet another year, the Floyd "Ben" Schwartzwalder Trophy will continue to collect dust in Morgantown.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-10|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 92|
Texans may remember the Alamo. Mountaineer fans remember 1992. I was 12 years old, sitting in the stands at Mountaineer Field for that miserable afternoon, and the images are still as clear in my head as they were that day. I just couldn't understand how officials could possibly get away with such a crime - and later couldn't believe that the head of that crew was in charge of the Big East zebras. I will never forget that day, and I will always put a star next to the Syracuse game on the schedule, no matter the records.
Hopefully the Mountaineers will be just as focused as I am. This Syracuse team is a long way from the teams led by guys like Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb, but it is a lot better than the Orange squads that we have seen in recent years. If WVU doesn't show up ready to play, things could get interesting at Mountaineer Field.
The good news for WVU fans is that I don't see that happening. This team is a smart group, and it knows it has to do more than just put on the pads. The defense will continue to shine, and the offense will take another positive step. As long as there aren't any phantom pass interference penalties, the Mountaineers will be fine.
|Pick: West Virginia 33-10|
|Taylor Jones||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 93|
|While no Big East game can be taken lightly, Syracuse shouldn't be much of a challenge for the Mountaineers, especially while playing in Morgantown. I'm hoping that West Virginia will continue to use many offensive threats and allow Noel Devine to continue to heal the injury that has been plaguing him since the LSU game. I think that the Mountaineer defense gained valuable experience and chemistry during the South Florida game that will no doubt carry on for the rest of the season. I hope to see Bradley Starks continue to impress and keep his touchdown streak going for the third consecutive game. While Syracuse will be looking for redemption after its embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh last week, I don't think theOrange are coming to the right place to get it.,|
|Pick: West Virginia 28-7|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 97|
|Syracuse certainly appears to be improving in this, the second season under Doug Marrone. The SU defense is capable of causing many problems, as it's an experienced unit (seven seniors among the 10 starters back from last year). SU's offense is still a work in progress, but it's also not as mistakeprone as in the recent past. WVU definitely can't overlook the ‘Cuse, because this year, it appears to be a slightly different shade of Orange.|
|Pick: West Virginia 23-14|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: W||Season: 6-0||Pt Diff: 103|
As WVU continues its climb in the polls the Mountaineers prepare for another program long on history and short on recent success.
Syracuse comes to down with a series record eight-game losing streak to the Mountaineers. Despite that, the Cuse still leads the series by three games.
Mountaineer fans should need no real reminder of the history of this series, nor the screwing the Big East gave West Virginia in 1992 over the Marvin Graves incident. Syracuse brings an improved product to Morgantown, but was exposed as a team still very short on talent by what has heretofore been a very disappointing Pitt program in a blowout in the Carrier Dome last week.
The Mountaineer defense has been stellar all season long, and there should be no reason to think this won't continue against the Syracuse offense. The question is whether the Mountaineer offense so loaded with talent can actually put an entire game together and put an opponent away. It is time for this offensive line to grow up and lay some groundwork for the running game. Noel Devine will never be confused as a power runner, but having to avoid tacklers in the backfield on nearly every running play is just inexcusable. It's time to put the foot on the pedal.
|Pick: West Virginia 37-13|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 5-1||Pt Diff: 77|
At 4-2, is Syracuse turning the corner during Doug Marrone's second season at head coach? Are the Orange finally returning to respectability? Are they ready to help the Big East prove the critics wrong? No, no and no.
SU's four victories have come over Akron, Maine, Colgate and South Florida, teams that combine for a 9-17 record. While they maybe headed in the right direction, Cuse still doesn't have the speed to hang with WVU.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-10|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: L||Season: 5-1||Pt Diff: 95|
This year's Syracuse teams looks to be much improved over the last few years, but you wouldn't know it from the trashing they took at the hands of "those that shall not be named" from up north last weekend. They had everything going their way... homecoming, an Orange-Out going on, SU fans that were starting to have hope. Far from just a loss, it was a good ole fashion arse whopping.
West Virginia seems to be in a similar situation riding a 5-1 record, national ranking, and homecoming weekend... so will things go sour as they did at the Dome? Sorry 'Cuse fans, but this is not your week either. Even with the hampered running game, WVU has too many play makers in other areas to let this game get away from them. The Mountaineers continue to roll to 6-1.
|Pick: West Virginia 38-10|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: L||Season: 5-1||Pt Diff: 103|
Remember that old knock-knock joke? Knock, knock. Who's there? Orange. Orange who. Orange you glad you're not [fill in the blank]. Over the last few years, the punch line has more often than not been, "Orange you glad you aren't the Syracuse football team?"
The Syracuse Orange (why are they singular? This puzzles me. Shouldn't they be plural?) have had a tough time of it the last few years. I never understood why they fired Paul Pasqualoni, who had a very fine career there, but Greg Robinson clearly wasn't the answer to whatever their question was. Doug Morrone seems to have the program moving toward being on track, but it will take him a little more time to turn SorryExcuse back into the Syracuse of old. It's in the best interests of the Big East and therefore probably of WVU for Syracuse to return to its former grandeur, but this year won't be the year that happens.
|Pick: West Virginia 35-14|