Fearless Picks: WVU - Syracuse

After a few days to lick their wounds, the pickers resume the chase for the top spot of the standings.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

None of our pickers are particularly happy this week – a loss, plus a missed pick, will do that. Thus, no kudos for anyone on the panel.


NOSE PICKING

David and Greg continue to wage a close battle at the top of the board, and thus avoid any knocks this week either. Elsewhere, everyone slipped into the triple digits in the point differential category, and thus fall under the same blanket of ignominy for the week. Chris takes the booby prize for his massive 36-point miss on the USF score.


David Velegol Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 88
I went back over the past two years to see how West Virginia responded to losses. In 2006 WVU was 7-0 and lost to a tough Louisville team on the road 44-34. The scene was very similar to the recent USF loss, with turnovers and a hostile crowd. WVU responded the following week with a 42-24 home win against Cincinnati. When West Virginia lost to USF last year, it rebounded with the 41-39 triple overtime win over Rutgers in Morgantown. In 2005, the Mountaineers lost to Virginia Tech 34-17 in Morgantown, and won the next week 27-14 on the road against the Scarlet Knights.

There really isn't a pattern there, and it is hard to tell if there is going to be a let down or WVU is ready want to tear into someone. I am concerned about WVU's line being able to push Syracuse's defensive line off of the ball. On the road, WVU is the Yankees, so one may be a little tougher to earn than expected.

Pick: West Virginia 34-17
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 90
In WVU's recent five-win streak over Syracuse, it has dominated in Morgantown (24-point margin of victory) but has had to battle in the Dome (8.5 margin of victory). Only in 1993 (43-0) has WVU won in the Dome by more than nine points, but those past Syracuse teams don't bear much resemblance to this present one, which is just 6-22 under Greg Robinson.
Pick: West Virginia 43-14
 
Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 102

How does Syracuse lose to Washington, Iowa, Illinois and the other Miami by the combined score of 135-46, then whip Louisville at Papa John's stadium? Big plays. Of the Orange's six scoring plays against the Cardinals, four of them were 40 yards or more, including touchdown receptions of 79, 42 and 60 yards plus a 93-yard kickoff return. This seems to be a favorable matchup for the Mountaineers, as the 3-3-5 stack defense tends to shut down the big plays and force teams to drive the length of the field in small chunks.

The WVU offense will get back on track this weekend and the defense will continue its stellar play.

Pick: West Virginia 41-10
 
Jeff Mason Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 106
Okay, I plead guilty of unreasonable expectations of a 2007 WVU national title--the Bulls ended that dream. But Coach Rod's squad can still go 12-1 (with a bowl win), and hope the Bulls slip up playing in the COLD (where historically they have not performed well) at Rutgers, UConn and Pitt. Losing two of those Big East games, so that WVU has a pretty decent shot of another Big East Title IF the Mountaineers RUN THE TABLE, is a possibility. In the past, WVU's hangover from such a disappointing loss has carried over to subsequent games--BUT NOT THIS TIME. Combined with the fact that the Mountaineers are facing an offense and defense each ranked lower than 100th nationally, Coach Rodriguez's team is going to be really fired up and will execute unusually well even if Patrick White cannot play. West Virginia takes a cue from the Governator of Cal-e-fornia in his role as the Terminator -- "I'll be back!" And with a vengeance. Syracuse goes up 3-0 but WVU scores on every first half possession to take a 27-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Mountaineers win going away, rushing for over 300 yards with Slaton and either Devine or Schmitt going over the century mark.
Pick: West Virginia 44-13
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 121
The loudest game I've ever been to was West Virginia's 1997 blowout loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Ten years later, the programs have gone in completely opposite directions. The Mountaineers are now the team with a target on their back in the Big East, while Syracuse is trying to scrape together a multiple-win season in the conference.

The Orange will test WVU early and often with the deep ball, but their lack of a running game and lack of overall defense are not things that will help them spring an upset. On top of that, the Mountaineers are fightin' mad after last week's loss to USF. West Virginia wins big as Greg Robinson's seat gets a liiiiittle bit warmer each week.

Pick: West Virginia 52-17
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 124
A week ago at this time Rich Rodriguez was the nation's offensive mastermind, Pat White was the greatest quarterback to ever play at WVU, Steve Slaton was drawing a bead on WVU's all-time rushing record and both players were Heisman Candidates.

Today Rodriguez is an idiot, Pat White is called by some "fans" a "barely adequate" quarterback who should be "moved to receiver where he belongs" and Steve Slaton has "obviously lost a step" with his added 10 lbs. from the offseason.

So (at least in the minds of those without a clue) the idiot leads the barely adequate quarterback and the plodding former speed guy into Syracuse and the Carrier Dome. Once one of college football's most hellish havens, the Dome has become a much more welcoming place. T he Mountaineers have won twice in a row in the Loud House after only winning once there since 1990. WVU sports a five game winning streak over the Orange, and with a win, will pull within five wins of evening the traditional series, which has been played every year since 1955.

Greg Robinson's team is, well, not too good. A loss in this game by the Mountaineers would drop WVU straight out of the polls and into a fight for the International Bowl based upon the remaining schedule. A win would steady the ship rocked by the shocking display last week in Tampa. The barely adequate quarterback is hobbled and should be given the week off to heal, but what Coach Rodriguez decides to do will be anyone's guess.

No matter who takes the snaps, the running backs should be able to take advantage of a rush defense ranked in the 100s. The resurgent Mountaineer defense takes another step towards shutting the traps of the national pundits and the offense gets a welcome respite.

Pick: West Virginia 34-17
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 129
A certain WVU professor I know uses a lot of Power Point slides to illustrate his course lectures. During football season, he slips in a few slides here and there that have to do with defeating the week's opponent. His favorite -- and mine -- is always the Syracuse slides, which could be subtitled, "101 ways to squeeze an orange." The best one is a cartoon of The Mountaineer's big boot about to stomp on a fearful Orange. How can you take seriously a major university whose mascot is an orange? Should colleges and universities in fruit and vegetable-growing areas consider changing their mascots to something more agriculturally representative? How about the Michigan State Tart Cherries? The Fresno State Raisins? The LSU Sweet Potatoes?

Ah, Syracuse. One victory over a defense-free Louisville does not a season make. They're still Syracuse. The weekend's battle cry: "Remember the Marvin Graves!"

Pick: West Virginia 45-10
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 135
Losing to a South Florida team that the Mountaineers could beat nine out of 10 times was bad enough, but West Virginia simply cannot fall to 22 pylons playing under a giant bubble. Syracuse's football program has fallen faster than a dog on an icy lake in recent years, and even a win over Louisville did nothing to convince me that Greg Robinson's crew can put together anything that resembles a football team. I may be eating my words, as Mr. Richardson did last week, but expect this one to be a blowout.
Pick: West Virginia 56-20
 
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 4-1 Pt Diff: 156
Syracuse has struggled in two areas key to winning games: running and stopping the run. The Orange, losers of 22 of their last 28 games, rank 118 of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams with 40.6 rush yards per contest. SU is 111th in rush defense, allowing 231-plus yards. That's put the Orange in an immediate hole that just keeps getting deeper. West Virginia's defense is too stout and sound in stopping big plays and stuffing the run. It won't allow wide open receivers throughout a game, as did Louisville in the then-No. 18 Cardinals' 38-35 home loss to Syracuse.

West Virginia's offense leads the Big East and ranks third in the nation with 323 average rush yards per game. It matches up well against its rival, and its 40-point per game average might be bettered if Syracuse fails to tackle well - as it has in the vast majority of games played over the latter two-plus seasons - and can't eliminate the long gains. Patrick White ran for four scores in the 41-17 home win last season, including 69, 40 and 32 yarders. Steve Slaton added a 52-yard touchdown run, and the Mountaineers racked up 457 rushing yards. Even if White can't play, backup Jarrett Brown has proven more than capable. The lone worry is one that exists every game: In its last three losses, West Virginia has had 13 combined turnovers. Once again, if the Mountaineers don't lay the ball on the Carrier Dome turf numerous times, they will win. If they do, it could allow Syracuse to make the game close.

Pick: West Virginia 38-13

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