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The Texas Bowl: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Syracuse Orange Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/27/13

Syracuse Orange (6-6) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4)

College Football: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm (Reliant Stadium)

The Line: Minnesota Golden Gophers -4.5 -- Over/Under: 46 See the Latest Odds

TV: ESPN

Storyline: Minnesota looks to cement its best regular season finish in nine years with a win over a Syracuse team that struggled to the finish line when the two meet up in the Texas Bowl Friday.

The Breakdown: The Golden Gophers finished the season 8-4 after opening with four straight wins and foillowed by dropping the next two before embarking on another four-game winning streak that included a 34-23 upset win over then 24th-ranked Nebraska and a solid 24-10 victory over Penn State. Minnesota ran into a wall in its last two, however, losing to conference giants then #19 Wisconsin and then #11 Michigan State to end the regular season.

The Texas Bowl: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Syracuse Orange Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/27/13

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Gophers won’t dazzle anyone with offense—sophomore QB Phillip Nelson leads the team in passing with 1,288 yards and 9 touchdowns and senior Derrick Engel leads in receiving with 25 catches, 401 yards and 5 touchdowns—but they do possess a standout running back in junior David Cobb, who’s rushed for 1,111 yards and 7 touchdowns, the Big 10’s sixth best total this season. Defense, though, is where this team separates itself with the country’s 27th best scoring defense, allowing just 22.3 points per outing and senior DL Ra’Shede Hageman (29 tackles, 7.5 for loss), a First Team All-Big Ten selection, is the unit’s anchor and top next-level prospect.

Syracuse, meanwhile, faced a bit more adversity in its 2013, opening with losses to Penn State and Northwestern, before landing in the win column with consecutive victories over Wagner and Tulane. The Orange would drop two of their next three, including blowout conference losses to then #3 Clemson and Georgia Tech before finishing the slate with wins in three of their last five, highlighted by a dramatic 34-31 victory over Boston College in the season finale’s closing seconds.

Syracuse comes in ranking a distant 103rd in the country in passing yards at 181.5 per outing and 100th in scoring offense at 22.8 points per contest, but like Minnesota, the Orange passing game is far outdone by their ground game. Led by junior RB Jerome Smith (840 YDs, 11 TDs), Syracuse averages a 39th-best 193.8 yards per game this season. Also like Minnesota, though, the Orange passing game is on the shaky side. Sophomore QB Terrel Hunt (1,450 YDs, 10 TDs, 8 INTs) won the start in week three and has been about as questionable as they come, throwing 0 TDs to 7 picks in a six-game stretch and failing to reach 100 yards passing in half his outings.

Rick’s Pick: The line in this one is currently set at -4 for Minnesota with a 46 point total and these teams share a lot of parallels—passing games ranked in the 100s and running games ranked in the 30s—but where they differ is on the defensive side.  Minnesota beat both Penn State and Northwestern, holding them to a combined 24 points, while Syracuse lost to both and surrendered a combined 71 points. Look for Minnesota to cover.

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Minnesota -4.5

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