As you know by now the Gophers, in spite of improving their record by two games, is headed back to Houston after being invited to the Texas Bowl. The opponent this time around will be Syracuse.
What you Need to Know
Date: Dec. 27th (Friday)
Time: 5:00 PM
Unfortunately we are playing on the 27th of December and the game kicks off at an awkward 5:00. But the game is on ESPN and last year it had the 5th highest TV ratings (after the BCS bowls). The other good news is that the game appears to be very winnable. Not that beating Syracuse or getting the Texas Bowl trophy in our trophy case is important, but getting "a" bowl win and getting to the 9-win total is significant.
Syracuse finished 6-6 this year with a 4-4 ACC record. The Orange played two Big Ten teams early and lost to both, two teams that the Gophers beat. They opened the season with a 23-17 home loss to Penn State and then went to Northwestern in week 2 and lost 48-27 (after being down 34-7 at half time).
I like to take a quick overview of their stats and how that ranked in the ACC.
|Syracuse Orange||Minnesota Gophers|
|Stats||ACC Rank||Stats||B1G Rank|
|3rd Down Conv||37.9%||8||41.8%||6|
|3rd Down Cov||32.2%||5||35.6%||6|
I didn't really see anything significant here other than Syracuse is a rush first team that finished middle of the pack in the ACC. They are led by first-year coach, Scott Shafer who has spent most of his career as a defensive coordinator (Stanford, Michigan, Syracuse were his last 3 stops).
The Gophers faced the Orange just last season and won that game 10-17. But in spite of that game just being last year very little similarities exist today. Syracuse has a new coach, both quarterbacks are no longer wearing either of these team's uniforms, the Gopher's leading receivers in that game were Devin Crawford-Tufts and AJ Barker (both gone) and Minnesota has a different offensive identity that is based on a lot of shits and motions.
I find it hard to be overconfident and even arrogant about Gopher football after decades of being somewhere between futile and mediocre. But this is a game that I really think we should win. This team dramatically improved from last year to this and then continued to get better throughout the season. I feel like a loss would be a fairly significant disappointment. Based on the fact that I am 100% convinced this team is significantly better than it was when we faced the Orange in 2012 and I'm not sure I could say the same thing about Syracuse. I believe that the Big Ten is more difficult than the ACC, not by a lot but I believe wins over Nebraska, Penn St, Northwestern are more impressive than wins over the likes of Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. And I feel like the Gophers are going to control the line of scrimmage, rush for a lot of yards and hold the Orange offense to limited yards/points.
I feel strangely confident, and while it may sound arrogant that is not my intent. I respect that Syracuse is a good team that is also moving in the right direction, I feel like they are in a similar spot as the Gophers were a year ago. But we have taken steps past that point and I am expecting a win.