Pinstripe Bowl 2012: Future NFL Players Who Will Have Big Games

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 03:  Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers carries the ball against the TCU Horned Frogs during the game on November 3, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  TCU defeated WVU in two overtimes 39-38.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

This year's Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium could descend into a shootout between the Syracuse Orange and West Virginia Mountaineers.

That would, of course, be nothing new for West Virginia; the Mountaineers have both scored and allowed 40-plus points on six separate occasions this season. 

Syracuse has been a little—okay, a lot—more staid in 2012, but their offense has gotten better as the year progressed. After averaging 22.8 points per game in the season's first half, the Orange have put up 35.8 in their last six.

With offensive talent all over the field, it's not hard to imagine these teams turning Yankee Stadium into the O.K. Corral. 

When the scoreboard inevitably breaks, here are three future pros that can be held culpable:


QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

In the wake of what could possibly be the best quarterback class ever, the 2013 quarterback class is bound to disappoint. But if anyone has a chance to be the next Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, it's almost certainly Geno Smith.

He doesn't have Luck's elite size or Griffin's elite speed, projecting more as a Wilson-type, only without the height deficiency. At 6'3'', Smith is tall enough to make all the throws, but still nimble enough to get out of the pocket. Really, his ceiling resembles Aaron Rodgers more than any of 2012's rookie signal-callers.

Smith's final two seasons in Morgantown have been nothing short of spectacular. In just 25 games, he's recorded 8,389 passing yards, 71 passing touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. 

Of those 25 remarkable games, two stand out as particularly jaw-dropping. In last year's Orange Bowl, Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-33 rout of Clemson. Then in 2012, he threw for a remarkable 656 yards and eight touchdowns against Baylor.

Syracuse's defense allows just 25.7 points per game, but that was against inferior Big East competition. The Orange could be in way over its head in this one.


QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Nassib doesn't have the first-round NFL prospects of Geno Smith. At least not yet. But he's hardly anything to scoff at in his own right.

The senior quarterback has restored Syracuse football to unthinkable heights during his tenure under center. After making just two bowl games in the preceding 10 seasons, the Orange made two in three seasons with Nassib at the helm.

Like his draft prospects, Nassib's numbers aren't as gaudy as Smith's. But given the system, and the talent around him, they're just as impressive. He's thrown for 3,619 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2012. Those numbers, along with a decent combination of size, speed and arm, have ESPN Scouts Inc. giving him a late-third-round grade.

West Virginia's secondary is far from a powerhouse, and that's putting it lightly. Putting it more frankly, they could be called one of the worst units in the league.

Syracuse will need to put up points in this one, and against the leaky Mountaineers, Nassib could have himself a nice little showcase game for NFL scouts.

WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Steadman Bailey has registered the more impressive numbers (albeit by a small margin), but speedy Tavon Austin is the one winning over NFL scouts in droves.

The 5'9'' Austin, who projects as a prototypical slot receiver, has racked up 110 catches, 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns during his senior season. Coming on the heels of a 101-catch, 1,186-yard junior season, this year's numbers give Austin one of the best college careers we've ever seen from a wideout.

With Syracuse needing to roll coverage toward Bailey—Austin's partner in crime and West Virginia's premier deep threat—Smith could look Austin's way early, often and very successfully.

Look for him to put up giant numbers in this one, a fitting end to his magnificent career.