By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Give the New York Yankees credit, they know how to hype their product.
“This should be a bowl game for the ages,” is how New Era Pinstripe Bowl Executive Director Mark Holtzman described the matchup between West Virginia and Syracuse slated to be played at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 29.
West Virginia (7-5) had higher aspirations when they were ranked in the top 5 in the nation five weeks into the season, but the reality is the Mountaineers had to settle for the Pinstripe Bowl.
Still, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is excited about the opportunity.
“Our kids will be fired up about playing on behalf of the Big 12,” said Holgorsen, during a press conference held on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. “We are excited about being part of this bowl game.
“Our fans are going to be excited about coming to New York and being able to experience it.”
Syracuse (7-5) head coach Doug Marrone, who is a native of New York, echoed the sentiments of Holgorsen.
“I am jacked up about this, I am really excited about being here,” Marrone said. “I have always had an unbelievable amount of respect for how (West Virginia) plays the game.
“We are excited, our kids are excited, both teams know each other. I think it will be an outstanding game, I do believe it will be the best game so far with the Pinstripe Bowl.”
The Pinstripe Bowl, which is being played in the new Yankee Stadium, is in its third of existence, with Syracuse winning the inaugural game 36-34 against Kansas State in 2010. That was followed last December by Rutgers’ 27-13 win over Iowa State.
Holtzman said it took time for the Pinstripe Bowl to gain acceptance among all the other bowl games, but if his entrance to a National Football Foundation dinner at the Waldorf Astoria earlier this week in New York is any indication, apparently acceptance has been received.
“The first year when I went there people were asking me a lot of questions,” Holtzman said. “Last year it changed a little bit, there began to be a little bit of a buzz, everyone saw that we could pull off a bowl game.
“We had a great bowl game the first year and people started to take notice. I really felt like we started to belong.”
Any doubts Holtzman may have had are now gone.
“Let me tell you something, this year I walked into the lobby (of the Waldorf) and I felt like a rock star,” said Holtzman, who also spoke of the history of the two schools involved, including Jim Brown at Syracuse and Sam Huff at West Virginia, who later starred for the New York Giants. “Everyone, including the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, they all gave me high fives congratulating me on the matchup that we have this year.
“That was a helluva of a good feeling to walk through there and everyone giving us the accolades of the great matchup that we have this year.”
These clubs have met often before, having been Big East partners for years, with the Orange holding a 32-27 series lead, including a two-game win streak after losing eight in a row to the Mountaineers.
That includes last year’s 49-23 loss on a Friday night to the Orange in the Carrier Dome.
“I think we are going to motivated based on what happened last year,” Holgorsen said. “We went up to Syracuse and they outcoached us, and they outplayed us so I think there is going to be a lot of familiarity with it.”
Why the excitement from Holtzman? How about five potential first round draft picks — all on offense — including Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey of West Virginia, and Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon at Syracuse.
Those players play for a pair of offenses that can light up the scoreboard. West Virginia is averaging 41.6 points per game, while the Orange is putting up 29.3 a contest. Both teams, especially the Mountaineers, struggle to stop the other team, which is why Holtzman expects to see lots of points.
“We are very, very excited, we have one of the best bowl matchups in the country and our game will be as exciting as any game you want to see,” Holtzman said. “The coaches don’t want to hear this with some of the games they have had this past year which I have followed very closely, but we could have 100 points in this game and a thousand passing yards.
“That is the type of talent that we have.”
West Virginia, which left the Big East after last season for the Big 12, is 14-17 in bowl games, including last year’s 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. That snapped a two-year postseason losing skid which followed a four-game win streak in bowls for the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen is excited for the chance to play the Orange at Yankee Stadium, which he visited last summer with his 12-year-old son for a more traditional game at this venue, baseball.
“Our entire university is going to be fired up about it,” Holgorsen said. “One of the things we have been talking about is wanting to play a game in New York and it is fantastic to be able to play a bowl game and strike up one of the rivals that exists with Syracuse.
“Hopefully our experience in New York of playing Syracuse will be better than last year which was not very pleasant for West Virginia when Syracuse got the best of us.”
Syracuse is 13-9-1 in bowl games, having won three of its last four postseason appearances. While West Virginia enters having won two in a row after a five-game skid, the Orange is 5-1 after a 2-4 start, while earning a share of the Big East championship.
The Orange will leave the Big East for the ACC next season.
“I think we have a great appreciation for West Virginia,” said Marrone, who played against West Virginia while at Syracuse in 1983-85. “I know what our players are up against and I know how much pride those players at West Virginia have and how they play football.”
While the Pinstripe Bowl, which will be televised by ESPN on Dec. 29 with a 3:15 kickoff, is still a newcomer among the 35 bowl games, Holgorsen thinks this experience will be a memorable one.
“I know one thing that the Yankee do, everything they do is going to be first class, and our players are going to be fired up about it,” Holgorsen said. “I have been to a whole bunch of bowl games and this one is going to be as good as any of them to be able to come to New York and to be able to experience the great city that New York is.”
Marrone added; “...Pretty much the majority of our football team are from this area and their families are going to be able to come and in my opinion be able to play at the greatest venue in all of sports throughout the whole world at Yankee Stadium.”
As for the game itself, Holgorsen agrees with Holtzman’s assessment of what lies ahead.
“It will be a fantastic matchup,” Holgorsen said. “I think the fans are going to be excited about it. I think college football is going to be excited about it,”
—Contact Brian Woodson