The Texas Bowl features the ACC vs. the Big Ten, and while it may not get the attention basketball does between these conferences, this game is set to be a good watch as long as you like old school defense and a lot of run plays. The Gophers had the better season and are -4.5 point favorites in this one at sportsbook.com
Syracuse started out the year with two games against Big Ten schools and lost both of them, 23-17 vs. Penn State and 48-27 at Northwestern. Minnesota beat both of those teams, 20-17 at Northwestern and 24-10 vs. Penn State.
For the Orange, they started to pick it up toward the end of the season outside of a 59-3 loss to Florida State. They battled Pittsburgh to a 17-16 loss and won their season finale 34-31 against Boston College, which can be considered their best win of the year to finish 6-6. It was hit or miss with Syracuse all year, either getting destroyed by better teams, or handling other mediocre teams in the ACC.
Minnesota was a bit of the feel good story of the year, as they reeled off four straight wins (three outright upsets) late in the year with head coach Jerry Kill dealing with health issues throughout the season. Their best result of an 8-4 season was probably the 34-23 win against Nebraska, but all four of their Big Ten wins were impressive. The fact that the Gophers didn't get blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan State in their final two games says a lot about the team as well.
Both teams are tough defensively, but Minnesota gets the edge by a little bit. The aforementioned games against top teams in the Big Ten say it all. Syracuse was too inconsistent, but they did have some great defensive outings against Wake Forest and Maryland in back-to-back weeks.
The Orange are going to run as much as possible with quarterback Terrel Hunt and running back Jerome Smith. Hunt became the starter three games into the year and hasn't looked back. While his arm isn't great (10 TDs, eight INTs), he's effective on the ground with 426 yards and five TDs. Smith has 840 rushing yards and 11 TDs to his name. Hunt actually put in his most complete game in their must-win game against Boston College, throwing for 270 yards and two TDs along with 90 rushing yards and a TD.
The Minnesota offense is eerily similar with Philip Nelson at quarterback. He finished with nine passing TDs and six interceptions. He was competent against mediocre defenses, but really struggled in the final two games against the Badgers and Spartans. He added 350 yards and six TDs on the ground as well. Running back David Cobb came out of nowhere this season and finished with 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. Cobb ran for 101 yards against the nation's best run defense of MSU in his last game, so Syracuse will have its hands full with him.
These teams actually played last year with the Gophers keeping QB Ryan Nassib in check. Minnesota was outgained in yardage, but they were more persistent with the ground game and that got them the 17-10 win.
The Orange are 4-0 ATS in their last four neutral site games and 7-1 ATS in their last eight non-conference games (the loss coming against Minnesota in 2012). The Gophers have covered in six straight games, are 4-1 ATS in five road games this year and are also 7-1 ATS in their last eight non-conference games.
This is Minnesota's second straight bowl game under Jerry Kill, while Syracuse has reached a bowl in three of its last four years, but this is the first under first-year head coach Scott Shafer.