Bowl lacks buzz, but Gophers and Orange have reason to celebrate
The Rose Bowl this game is not. The Texas Bowl between Minnesota and Syracuse barely has the buzz of the bowl game in Shreveport.
Both teams finished 4-4 in their respective conferences, but that should be a small victory itself.
Minnesota was one of the stories of the season in the Big Ten as the Gophers went 4-3 in the Big Ten under acting coach Tracy Claeys, including wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Claeys has been in charge since Oct. 5 when head coach Jerry Kill stepped aside to treat epilepsy.
Meanwhile, Syracuse quietly defeated three bowl teams, including two in conference. Little was expected of the Orange as Syracuse moved into the ACC under a first-year coach.
Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Kickoff: Dec. 27, 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Minnesota by 4
Minnesota’s Key to Victory: Control the run game
It’s no secret what Minnesota is going to do on offense: The Gophers attempted only 237 passes this season, 92 fewer than Wisconsin for the fewest in the Big Ten. Behind an improved offensive line and running back David Cobb, Minnesota’s run game powered the four-game winning streak in October and November. When it ran into superb defenses from Wisconsin and Michigan State, though, Minnesota averaged only 2.8 yards per carry and scored one offensive touchdown. The good news for the Gophers: Syracuse isn’t Michigan State or Wisconsin. The Orange also may be without leading tackler Durell Eskridge in the secondary.
Syracuse’s Key to Victory: Continuing the momentum under Terrel Hunt
Syracuse had a quick hook with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, who began the season at quarterback. Terrel Hunt started the third game of the season and flourished against Wagner and Tulane. He struggled against the better teams in the ACC but regained his form late in the year. The sophomore completed 47 of 71 passes for 429 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the final two games against Pittsburgh and Boston College.
Key player: Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
The Gophers 6-6, 311-pound nose tackle has been a wrecking crew all season with 11 tackles for a loss and an interception. He’ll be matched up with Syracuse’s second-team ACC center Macky MacPherson in a meeting of strength on strength. Hageman will have a major size advantage over the 6-2, 290-pound MacPherson, so Hageman should expect double teams.
Syracuse will be out to prove its 6-6 season wasn’t one of smoke and mirrors. Two of the Orange’s signature wins came against teams (Maryland, Boston College) shorthanded on offense due to injury. Syracuse is also plenty tested against the Big Ten, but those have tests have resulted in futility. Syracuse is 0-4 the last two seasons against Big Ten teams, including a 17-10 loss to Minnesota in 2012. Minnesota, meanwhile, will have the best defensive player on the field (Hageman) and the best unit of any team on the field (its run game). Minnesota has all the advantages to achieve its first nine-win season since 2004, a total that would match the total wins in Kill’s first two seasons.
Prediction: Minnesota 35, Syracuse 28