Texas Bowl, Friday, 6 pm ET, ESPN
Suggested slogan: The Texas Bowl in Texas presented by Texas for Texans.
How Syracuse got here: You know how some teams seem to play nothing but close games? This team is the opposite of that. It began the season with a touchdown loss to Penn State, and the final two games were a one-point loss to Pitt and a three-point win over Boston College. Between, every game was decided by at least 13 points. As is fitting for a 6-6 marginal bowl team, the wins were all of the fairly close variety. On the flip side, the Orange took some nasty losses, including 49-14 to Clemson, 56-0 to Georgia Tech, and 59-3 to Florida State. The team made the postseason, which is better than the alternative, but that's about all that can be said for it.
How Minnesota got here: It's been a long, wild ride for this Gophers team. Head coach Jerry Kill suffered another epileptic stroke during the team's win over Western Illinois in September, and on October 10, he announced he'd take a leave of absence to focus on his health. Led by longtime Kill assistant Tracy Claeys, the Gophers would win four games in a row before dropping their last two to Wisconsin and Michigan State. It was an eight-win season that surpassed most folks' expectations for the team, and doing it under the difficult circumstances is all the more impressive.
College football fans care because: For this section, I'm just going to plug our Syracuse sister site again, which raised something in the neighborhood of $45,000 to send underprivileged kids to the game. They'll also get a shirt, food vouchers, and a Sonic Slush. Very cool.
SEC fans care because...: They're supposed to like the rushing game, right? Well, neither of these teams necessarily rushes for a great per-carry average, but they do run it enough times to gain right around 200 yards apiece on the ground each game.
Watch this game if...: You like to see running and want to feel good about the good stories on both sides—the kids Syracuse fans are sending and the way Minnesota rallied around its ailing coach.
Bottom line: If it comes down to the rushing game as it would seem to, the advantage might actually go to the 'Cuse. The teams' yards per carry rates are about the same, but Minnesota allows about three quarters of a yards more per carry. That's over two yards per three-down set, and that much easily could end up the difference between some stops and some first downs. That said, Minnesota (No. 48) is significantly ahead of Syracuse (No. 76) in the F/+ rankings. Minnesota is probably the better team, but you never know in some of these games.
Brandon's pick: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 20
Line: Minnesota by 4