12/05/12 3:40 PM ET
Syracuse, West Virginia primed for Pinstripe Bowl
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
These two schools -- former rivals in the Big East -- won't be playing for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy this year. Syracuse and West Virginia will instead be vying for the George Steinbrenner Trophy, and both coaches said on Wednesday that they're looking forward to playing at Yankee Stadium.
"Our fans get a great opportunity," said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. "New York is a foundation for us in recruiting. Our alumni base has an opportunity to see us. Most importantly, our kids -- pretty much the majority of our football team -- is from this area. Their families are going to be able to come, and in my opinion, they get to play at the greatest venue in all of sports, throughout the whole world."
Marrone, in this case, is undoubtedly biased to his hometown venue. Syracuse's fourth-year coach grew up in the Bronx and graduated from nearby Herbert H. Lehman High School, and he can also call on the memory of a victory over Kansas State in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, back in 2010.
West Virginia, meanwhile, will be relying on a less pleasant memory to get through the game. The Mountaineers have lost back-to-back games to Syracuse, and coach Dana Holgorsen said that his entire team can recall the sour taste of a 49-23 road loss to the Orange last season.
"I made reference to it: I think we're going to be motivated to play, based on what happened last year," said Holgorsen. "We went up to Syracuse, and they outcoached us and outplayed us. There's going to be a lot of familiarity, but just like anything, when the game's over, you've got to move past it. We moved past that loss a long time ago, but we're going to revisit that and obviously watch the film from last year and the film from this year to try to come up with the best plan we possibly can."
Both teams finished with a 7-5 record, but they ended their seasons on discordant notes. West Virginia started its year 5-0 and rose all the way to a No. 5 ranking at midseason before suffering a five-game losing streak. Syracuse, meanwhile, started 2-4 and won five of its last six games.
West Virginia boasts quarterback Geno Smith -- a finalist for the Manning and Unitas Awards -- and often plays an explosive brand of football. The Mountaineers, in fact, are seventh in the country in scoring at 41.6 points per game, but they're 116th in points against (38.1 per game).
Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, said that contrast should make for an exciting game.
"This is a sensational game," said Levine. "These are two incredibly exciting teams. Their fan bases are in this area. There's a history between these two teams, and [they have] two great quarterbacks and All-American players on each side. As far as the Pinstripe Bowl goes, this is a game deserving of Yankee Stadium, and this is going to be one of the best bowl games in the world this year."
West Virginia, late of the Big East, played through its first season in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers earned big victories over ranked opponents in Baylor and Texas, but they also played on the short end of a rout against Kansas State and a squeaker of a loss to Oklahoma.
Syracuse will begin play in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2013-14 school year, a realignment that puts its annual game against West Virginia in jeopardy. The Orange lost to two ranked teams this year -- USC and Rutgers -- but beat No. 9 Louisville and finished in a tie for the Big East title.
Syracuse leads the all-time series with West Virginia, 32-27, and the two teams can even claim a bit of Yankee Stadium trivia. Syracuse played in the first college football game at the original Yankee Stadium, in 1923, and West Virginia played in the second game there, just weeks later.
Dr. Daryl Gross, Syracuse's athletic director, said this Pinstripe Bowl matchup just feels natural.
"We're really proud to be here, really proud of our football coach, Doug Marrone, and what he's done," said Gross. "He and his staff have taken us to unbelievable heights, and we know the future is incredible as we transition to a new conference.
"We want to congratulate West Virginia. They're our old partner. We have a great rivalry with them, our longest and oldest rivalry. There's a lot of history and a lot of pride there. It's going to be a great matchup, and we look forward to being a part of it."
The two teams will get to sample the festive Manhattan holiday atmosphere, and they'll take part in several iconic events before the game. Both teams will get to visit the World Trade Center Memorial and the Empire State Building, and they'll be treated to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Marrone, now 24-25 in four seasons at Syracuse, said that he's looking forward to his second edition of the Pinstripe Bowl and that he's even more thrilled than he was the first time around. He's even enthusiastic about facing West Virginia, a school that has factored heavily in his life.
"I have a great amount of respect for them," said Marrone of his opponent. "I took an official visit to West Virginia University when I was in high school. I know what our players are up against. I know how much pride those players at West Virginia have and how they play football.
"I think there's a great appreciation. Bowl games are tough, where sometimes you play teams you may not know. These are two opponents that know each other and have a great amount of respect for each other."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.