ORLANDO, Fla. — A fistful of questions as No. 16 West Virginia (8-3) faces No. 20 Syracuse (9-3) in the Camping World Bowl:
Can a motivated defense lift West Virginia?
The premature departure of quarterback Will Grier has split the fan base, dominated headlines and lopped a pile of points off the betting line. Just don’t ask defensive coordinator Tony Gibson if this talk of meaningless bowl games has bled over to the upperclassmen on his side of the ball.
“It’s important to our guys — they’re all playing,” Gibson said. “They want to win.”
He rattled off names such as Dravon Askew-Henry, Toyous Avery, Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson, all seniors who are unwavering in their commitment to giving their best in Orlando.
“Those guys have been doing the right things and have been preparing to go play in a game,” Gibson said. “They want to try to go out the right way and try to get a win. I’d say they wouldn’t like it if somebody told them that it’s not important.”
After struggling to slow down Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, the Mountaineers’ defense wants to regain some respect against Syracuse.
“I’m a sore loser,” said linebacker David Long, the Big 12 defensive player of the year. “I’m ready to get back out there.”
While Syracuse isn’t in the same league as Oklahoma’s offense — is anybody? — the Orange rank 16th in total offense (468 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (40.8). Their FBS-leading 84.9 plays per game speak to a tempo that would be right at home in the Big 12.
Should Holgorsen return to play-calling long-term?
By referencing the “CEO crap” he handles as a head coach, Dana Holgorsen made it clear he possesses the itch to call plays again — and the bowl game will signal a familiar return.
Receiver recruit Ali Jennings heard from the horse’s mouth that Holgorsen also would be next year’s play-caller, an indication the boss hasn’t found a trusted replacement for offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
Holgorsen seemed to be on the brink of burnout two years ago when he stepped away from calling plays. Now he’s burning to try it again.
“I’m getting back in the swing of things — my fingers are all cramped up because I’m signaling plays again,” he said. “I’ve been cooped up, so I’m having a good time with it.
“I like football, and I like calling plays, and I like coaching offense. It’s what our team needs me to do right now, and that’s what I’ll do.”
Hey, if Sean Payton, Andy Reid and Sean McCoy can deftly handle play-calling as NFL head coaches, then it’s doable on any level. And Holgorsen has watched his former protege Lincoln Riley direct spectacular offenses in two years as Oklahoma’s boss.
The trickle-down issue for Holgorsen becomes settling on a quarterbacks coach who carries some recruiting cache.
Will Holgorsen really play two quarterbacks?
Or was his pledge to rotate Jack Allison and Trey Lowe mere gamesmanship aimed at complicating Syracuse’s defensive preparation?
I’m guessing Lowe’s usage will be minimal if he sees the field at all.
Spavital’s departure cost WVU its quarterback coach in the short term. And with the early signing period taking more attention away from bowl practices, was there really a willingness to install a package for Lowe?
If someone other than Allison takes a snap, I’m inclined to think it’s Kennedy McKoy reprising his Wildcat role.
What do the computers say?
Because the eye test is in the eye of the beholder, let’s check the unbiased algorithms.
Jeff Sagarin ranks WVU 12th (with a schedule strength of No. 39), and he has Syracuse 34th with an SoS of 63. Billingsley likes WVU at No. 18, seven spots higher than the ‘Case.
The Colley Matrix has the Orange 17th and the Mountaineers 23rd. Massey ranks Syracuse 19th and WVU 24th. Peter Wolfe has the Orange at No. 12, some 17 spots above West Virginia.
If WVU wins, will there by anyone there to sing Country Roads?
Ticket sales were spotty for the Mountaineers, who had visions of Sugar Bowl plums dancing in their heads. Instead they settled for a fourth-place Big 12 finish and their second trip in three years to this second-tier bowl.