The 2018 Camping World Bowl brings together a pair of old Big East rivals as the no. 20 Syracuse Orange, now members of the ACC, face the no. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers, now members of the Big 12. Kickoff is set for 5:15 EST on Friday, December 28, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Fans can catch all the action on ESPN.
The Mountaineers are currently listed as 1-point favorites over Syracuse. The over/under is set at 67 points. Click here for a full list of this year’s bowl game betting odds.
For Syracuse, this was a true breakout season. After back-to-back 4-8 campaigns under Dino Babers, the Orange burst onto the scene this year, going 9-3 and finishing second in the ACC Atlantic division. Syracuse’s season is all the more impressive when you consider that two of their losses came against teams in the College Football Playoff. The Orange’s 9-3 record was more than good enough to get them to their first bowl game since 2013. Also, with a win in the Camping World Bowl, Syracuse will have their first 10-win season since 2001.
As for West Virginia, this was a season of great hope and expectations that ultimately ended in disappointment. The Mountaineers were 8-1 and ranked in the top-10 heading into the second half of November. However, they finished the season with consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Those losses prevented the Mountaineers from reaching the Big 12 Championship Game and forced them to settle for an 8-3 record. On the bright side, this will be their sixth bowl game in Dana Holgorsen’s seven seasons. However, West Virginia is just 1-4 in those bowl games.
As mentioned, these two were fierce rivals during their days in the Big East. Syracuse has a 33-27 advantage all-time and has won their last three meetings with the Mountaineers. That includes the final two meetings between these schools as members of the Big East, as well as the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl that the Orange won 38-14. As conference rivals, Syracuse and West Virginia would play yearly for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. However, only the Camping World Bowl trophy will be at stake in this game.
This line dropped like a rock after West Virginia quarterback Will Grier announced he would skip the bowl game and prepare for the NFL Draft. After opening as 7-point favorites, the Mountaineers remain a slight favorite, although this game is virtually a PK. In my opinion, this game was close to a toss-up with Grier playing, making it easy for me to lean toward Syracuse now that the Mountaineers will be without their star quarterback.
The one advantage West Virginia may have without Grier is that Syracuse will have to prepare for multiple quarterbacks. The Mountaineers are expected to play both backup Jack Allison and true freshman Trey Lowe. Naturally, there is little film available on both players, which could hinder the Orange’s defensive preparations.
Despite playing a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks, the Mountaineers still have the great wide receiver trio of Gary Jennings Jr., David Sills V, and Marcus Simms. Just about any quarterback would be set up for success with those receivers at his disposal. The Syracuse defense has also been victimized by good passing teams a few times this season, namely NC State and Notre Dame. In fact, the Orange conceded over 30 points on five occasions this season. I expect the Mountaineers to have success on offense regardless of who’s playing quarterback, even if they’re not quite as potent with Grier choosing to sit out.
Of course, the Syracuse offense was one of the most dynamic in the country this season. The Orange scored 40-plus points in eight of their 12 games this season, including four games against bowl teams. Outside of Notre Dame, no team could get a handle on the Orange offense. Syracuse’s struggles in that game were largely tied to quarterback Eric Dungey getting hurt early in the 1st quarter.
Dungey, one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, will be healthy for the Camping World Bowl and should be motivated to end his career on a high. During the season, Dungey found the end zone with his legs on 15 occasions, nearly equaling his 17 passing touchdowns. He can be a handful for any defense and was at his best late in the season. Save for Syracuse’s 3-point outing against Notre Dame, the Orange averaged over 45 points per game over their last five games.
To be fair, the West Virginia defense faced plenty of potent offenses this season. They won’t be intimidated by anything the Orange throw at them. However, the Mountaineers didn’t exactly rise to the occasion against their toughest opponents. Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma all scored at least 40 points against West Virginia, which doesn’t bode well against another high-scoring team.
In the end, I can’t be sure the West Virginia offense will maintain their high level of play without Grier. On the other hand, I have no such concerns about the Syracuse offense. The Orange will also be the more motivated team in this game. In a virtual PK, I like Syracuse to cap their season with their 10th win over an old rival.