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Syracuse and Minnesota collide Friday in Texas Bowl
By: Mark Kern - StatFox
Published: 12/27/2013  at  5:19:00 AM
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SYRACUSE ORANGE (6-6)
vs. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (8-4)

Texas Bowl
Reliant Stadium – Houston, TX
Kickoff: Friday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Line: Minnesota -4, Total: 47.5

Minnesota is enjoying an impressive turnaround in the Big Ten, and will look to cap off its season with a victory over Syracuse in Friday's Texas Bowl.

The Orange had to win their final game of the regular season to even be bowl eligible, and that is what they did, as they defeated Boston College 34-31. Syracuse (8-4 ATS) is looking to complete its inaugural season in the ACC with a winning record, as the team is also in its first season under head coach Scott Shafer. When the Orange lost this season, the majority of the time the games were not close, as their six losses were by an average of 29.2 PPG, including two games by 56 points. Junior RB Jerome Smith (840 rush yards, 4.6 YPC, 11 TD) was the go-to player for the Syracuse on offense, as the team was 2-1 in games that Smith rushed for at least 115 yards. While coach Shafer’s team is trying to end the season with a winning record, the Golden Gophers are aiming to cap off a finish to one of the most surprising seasons in the country this year. Much has been made of head coach Jerry Kill’s battle with seizures, but he has built a much-improved team that is looking for a nine-win campaign, which would be only the school's second such season in 108 years. The Gophers also won four straight Big Ten games for the first time in 73 seasons. Minnesota is very similar to Syracuse, as the Golden Gophers do most of their damage on the ground, ranking 34th in the country with 201 rushing YPG. Both schools are going up against negative betting trends here, as the Orange are just 2-13 ATS off an upset win as an underdog in conference play since 1992, but in this same timeframe, Minnesota is 10-23 ATS on the road after playing its previous game on the road. A key in this game will be the battle of the line of scrimmage, and which team is able to run the ball effectively.

Can Minnesota secure its ninth win of the season on Friday? For the answer, connect to College Football Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013-14 bowl season. The four experts finished the regular season a collective 51.1% ATS (120-115-7) on college football Best Bets, led by StatFox Dave's stellar 57% ATS (35-25-2) mark. This included a 64% ATS (23-13-2) record in his final 11 weeks. StatFox Gary was 2-1 ATS in the final week to finish 53% ATS (21-19-1) in the regular season. Gary was 56% ATS (20-16-1) in college football Best Bets since Week 3. StatFox Brian also finished strong with a 3-1 ATS mark on Best Bets in Championship Week, giving him his fourth straight winning season of college football Best Bets at 52% ATS (33-30-1). StatFox Scott is looking to repeat a huge 2012-13 bowl season, when he posted a 71% ATS mark in Best Bets (5-2-1).

Syracuse sophomore QB Terrel Hunt (1,450 pass yards, 5.9 YPA, 10 TD, 8 INT) was all over the map this season. On Sept. 21, he completed 76 percent of his passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-17 victory over Tulane, but then against Clemson was only 8-of-24 for 52 yards and three interceptions. He has the ability to make plays with his feet as well, rushing for at least 90 yards in two games that wound up as victories. In the season-ending win over Boston College to clinch a bowl berth, Hunt had the best game of his young career, contributing 360 total yards of offense and three combined touchdowns. Syracuse has done a nice job of bringing him along, but he must play well as the Golden Gophers figure to load up the box against the Orange to stop the potent ground game. On defense, Syracuse allows 26.1 PPG (60th in nation) on 370 total YPG, which includes 140 rushing YPG (3.9 YPC) and 230 receiving YPG (7.0 YPA). The unit is led by junior LB Cameron Lynch (51 tackles, three sacks and 2 INT), who is not the fastest or strongest linebacker, but he has a nose for the football and is the type of player teams love to have on their defense. He will be in charge of getting defenders where they need to be, as the Gophers are a tough offense to slow down because of their success of using the zone read.

Minnesota senior RB David Cobb (1,111 rush yards, 5.1 YPC, 7 TD) has been great all season, but has been especially impressive at the end of the year, rushing for at least 100 yards in five of the Golden Gophers' past six games. At 225 pounds, he is a load to bring down, and does a great job of wearing down his opponents in the fourth quarter. His ability to run the ball has made sophomore QB Philip Nelson (1,288 passing yards, 7.2 YPA, 9 TD, 6 INT; 350 rush yards, 6 TD) much more difficult to slow down. He had a stretch from Oct. 19 to Nov. 23 where he went five games without throwing an interception, while scoring 10 total touchdowns during the Golden Gophers' four straight victories in the Big Ten. However, he is coming off two rough games (13-for-41, 160 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT), but those were against two elite defenses in Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Orange defense does not compare to either of those two, so Nelson has a chance to have a successful game. The Minnesota defense played well this year, allowing just 22.3 PPG (27th in nation). Even though it lost its final two games to the Badgers and Spartans, the defense was terrific in both of those games. They limited Wisconsin to 197 rushing yards, which was the third lowest for the Badgers on the season. Senior LB Aaron Hill (63 tackles, 2 INT and one touchdown) has had a big year for the Gophers, and has been huge for Minnesota in his final season. But even though his team is on the field for a mere 26:53, it has still allowed 371 total YPG (154 rushing, 217 passing) while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 61% of their passes.

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