Face it. The Gophers play the Orange in the Carrier Dome tomorrow at noon on ESPN2, and you really have no idea what's going to happen. Frankly, no one ever does until the game happens. That's not going to stop me now. While previews will obviously be of much greater benefit once teams play their first game, we can do a little bit here. First off, depth charts:
Now, let's consider in detail five of the most important matchups to watch based on the depth charts, and then move to best case and worst case scenarios for the Gophers in New York.
Most important matchups to watch:
(1) Minnesota's O-line versus the Syracuse D-line - Quite frankly, there is no reason for the Gophers to not leave Syracuse with over 300 rushing yards. The Minnesota O-line runs, in order, 296, 316, 285, 303, and 375 pounds. The Syracuse D-Line runs 234, 293, 273 and 246 pounds. The linebackers are 223, 236, and 216 (what?) pounds. Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley should be hitting the line when the line is 5 yards down the field. I'm trying to figure out how a 234-pound defensive end has any chance against a 6-7, 296 pound lineman like Matt Stommes. He doesn't. The Gophers should be able to run the ball all. day. long against this defense, control the time of possession, and wear out these undersized defenders.
(2) Syracuse WR Mike Williams v. Minnesota CB Traye Simmons - Simmons gives up 3 inches and about 33 pounds to Williams, who returns after a one-year break from tackle football. This height and weight disparity can hurt Minnesota in two distinct ways: (1) jump balls, which Paulus may resort to quite a bit in his return to football; and (2) on the edge in running plays, where Williams should be able to lock up Simmons and provide effective blocks on Simmons to spring starting RB Delone Carter. Simmons will have to be speedy and crafty to avoid being rendered ineffective.
(3) Minnesota QB Adam Weber v. his pass-crush with WR Eric Decker - Yes, Decker has 3 inches and at least 20 pounds on any Orange defender and should be effective. But I have no doubt that the Gophers' second and third options will be vastly superior to the Orange's nickelbacks. Weber has an amazing array of receiving talent to throw to. He needs to utilize it in order to maximize not only the opportunities across the entire field. He needs to stop setting up Decker as his target by locking on to him, because it can be argued that Decker took more hits than necessary, and ultimately was injured, in 2008 because Weber was setting him up. There's no reason to do it this year.
(4) Syracuse's interior offensive line v. Eric Small and Garrett Brown - The Syracuse guards and center is really the only place where I would argue Syracuse looks competent. G Ryan Bartholomew (Sr, 6-3, 288), C Jim McKenzie (Sr, 6-4, 284), G Tucker Baumbach (Sr, 6-5, 317) all have experience and actually match up well with Small and Brown. While I think that QB Greg Paulus will have the ability to avoid Minnesota's defensive ends due to his speed and elusiveness, the interior line is much more difficult to deal with. Syracuse has to lock down the interior of Minnesota's line to have any chance for Paulus to have a successful debut.
(5) Syracuse QB Greg Paulus against the Minnesota defense, his ego, his nerves, and all logic - Honestly. This is the reason why this game is so hard to predict. How is it possible that Paulus walks in, practices the summer, and displaces the starter after spring ball, as well as the QB who beat Charlie Weis last year? Furthermore, there is no benefit to Syracuse playing Paulus if he's anywhere near comparable to sophomore QB Ryan Nassib. That makes me suspicious, and worried, that Paulus is playing really, really well, because this is a one and done shot that hinders Nassib's development.
So, new coach, new QB for Syracuse, new coordinators for Minnesota. Bring on the best case / worst cases:
Bang your head (against a table) if: Weber is making eyes at Decker, if Paulus is hitting Williams with regular accuracy, and if the Gophers cannot run the ball on the severely undersized and thin Orange defensive front 7.
Bang your head (like you're at a rock concert) if: Weber spreads the ball, Paulus looks like a guy who played basketball for Dook last year, and Kevin Whaley has over 100 yards.
My prediction for Saturday: Nazareth, Slayer, Megadeth and Stryper. Headbanger's Ball at the Carrier Dome. Minnesota 51 - Syracuse 20.