Syracuse and Kansas State are two teams which have already exceeded expectations. An opportunity to play each other in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium is icing on the cake.
The Orange were projected by collegefootballpoll.com's Congrove Computer Rankings (a.k.a. CCR Top 120) to finish 4-8 overall and just 1-6 in the Big East. The Wildcats were forecasted to suffer through a 2-10 season overall and wind up 0-8 in the Big 12. Both teams either didn't get that bit of news, and other gloomy forecasts, or, more likely, chose to ignore it.
Syracuse is going bowling for the first time since the firing of Paul Pasqualoni following the 2004 season which culminated in a 51-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl. The next five years brought nothing but despair to Orange football fans who witnessed their team lose 45 of the next 59 games. The Greg Robinson era was a complete debacle that lasted four dreadful seasons and resulted in a 10-37 tenure that included a 3-25 record in Big East games.
Doug Marrone needed just two seasons to turn the Orange's fortunes around. A 4-8 campaign in 2009 brought light to the tunnel of darkness and this season's 7-5 campaign is a reason to celebrate. The 4-3 conference mark included victories over West Virginia, Cincinnati and Rutgers and USF. The Orange snapped an 8-game losing streak to West Virginia, a 5-game losing streak to Cincinnati, and a 5-game losing streak to USF. They broke a 4-game losing skid to Rutgers last year and now own a 2-game win streak over the Scarlet Knights.
There's still work to be done as conference foe Pitt as taken 6 straight from the 'Cuse, but there is now reason to believe if you are a Syracuse fan.
Kansas State is another team which was mired in the muck of a post-Bill Snyder era that lasted just three seasons before Snyder himself unretired to save the program he built into a regular Big 12 contender. It took 54 years for 14 coaches to win a total of 137 games at Kansas State prior to Synder's arrival in 1989. With Snyder at the helm, the Wildcats won 135 games in 17 seasons and went to 11 bowl games in-a-row from 1993-2003. They had appeared in only one bowl game before Snyder turned the program around.
In the three years Snyder was absent, Kansas State went bowling once (a 37-10 loss to Rutgers at the 2006 Texas Bowl), was 17-20 overall and just 9-15 in conference games. Ron Prince's last season of a 3-year tenure saw a decline to a 2-6 Big 12 record. Since Snyder's return, the Wildcats are 13-11 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12 - not a drastic improvement, but a sign that things are heading back in the right direction. Kansas State was 7-5 overall this season, 3-5 in the Big 12).
Kansas State has the statistical edge on offense, outranking Syracuse 62 to 106. However, the Orange have a far greater edge on defense where they outrank the Wildcats 5 to 106, largely because of a stalwart pass defense. Syracuse has proven to be susceptible to the run where it ranks just 42nd and will have to try to slow down Kansas State's 20th-ranked rushing game, paced by senior Daniel Thomas' 1,495 yards and 16 touchdowns.
These teams are not-so-old bowl rivals. Kansas State defeated Syracuse 35-18 in the 1997 season Fiesta Bowl and the Orange returned the favor by downing the Wildcats 26-3 in the 2001 Insight.com Bowl. They have never met in a regular season game.
The Congrove Computer Rankings' bowl predictions give Kansas State a 3.94-point edge and assign 13 confidence points to the picks.
Kansas State is 6-7 in its bowl history while Syracuse is 12-9-1. The Orange are 2-3 in their last five bowl trips, but 9-3 in the last 12.