By Mark Janssen
NEW YORK - To the winner goes the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy and the chance to feel extra special good heading into the off-season, while it will be a continuing stagger mode for the non-victor.
K-State, 7-5, but winners of just two of its last six games, will be playing Syracuse, 7-5 and winners of just one of its last four games, will play today in Yankee Stadium in the first New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
"The knock on us as seniors has been not making it to a bowl game and not living up to the K-State tradition," said senior Wade Weibert. "This senior group has made it back, and now we want to leave on a winning note."
On the Orange, coach Bill Snyder first talks of their "aggressive style" of defense. "They're a stunt-oriented team a high percentage of the time, but they also do not give up big plays."
And offensively, he adds, "They have a 1,000-yard rusher (Delone Carter) and they play an aggressive style of offense like their defense with a very physical offensive line."
The Wildcat coach adds, "They do not put themselves in harm's way very often in regards to penalties, turnovers and loss of yard plays."
KEYS TO A WILDCAT VICTORY:
OFFENSE - K-State passing game coordinator Del Miller compares SU's "long and athletic players" to those at Missouri. "They're good at putting you in negative yardage situations - 2nd and 12, 3rd and 8. We can't continue to be in third-and-long plays."
Miller says Syracuse will send some sort of blitz on "60 percent" of the plays.
"Our key will be handling the pressure. To do that, we're going to have to be able to throw the ball," Miller said. "None of it is stuff that we haven't seen, so it's just a matter of executing."
Running back coordinator Dana Dimel stressed, "We have to eliminate negative yardage plays, but we also know that we will probably have some. With that in mind, we're going to have to create some big plays."
Syracuse has 67 defensive plays for negative yardage, which includes 26 sacks, plus nine interceptions and eight recovered fumbles. By comparison, KSU's "D" produced 53 negative yardage plays, with 18 sacks, 13 interceptions and nine recovered fumbles.
One other key Miller mentioned was scoring touchdowns once in the Red Zone. "We can't settle for field goals."
Every indication is that Carson Coffman will get the start at quarterback. As Miller said, "When we've called on Carson, he has responded. He's a heady player, a team player and does a good job of managing the game."
The Wildcats' offense will be facing a SU defense that ranks fifth in the nation allowing just 295 yards per game. In eight games this season, the Orange have allowed no more than 16 points.
DEFENSE - K-State's defense will be facing what coordinator Chris Cosh calls a "two-headed monster."
That's Delone Carter (1,035 yards, 7 TDs) as the "pounder" and Antwon Bailey (504 rushing yards, 277 receiving yards, 5 total TDs) as the more "elusive back."
"Carter is a more at you back, while Bailey works on the edge, plus they throw the ball to him," said Cosh. "It's a team that's going to mush you. They're going to get three, four, five yards, and try to move the chains."
Ryan Nassib averages only 13 passing attempts, which accounts for 174 passing yards per game. Nassib has 16 TDs to 8 interceptions.
"They really are a contrasting style from the wide-open game you see in the Big 12," said Cosh. "They maybe most remind you of Oklahoma State."
Syracuse has sputtered on offense scoring no more than 28 points in the last four games, and twice was held to 16 or under. In the last five games, only once (305 vs. Rutgers) has Syracuse gone over 256 yards of total offense.
As with any bowl game, Cosh said, "You have to be able to adjust. People have had a month to prepare, so you know you're going to see something new that hasn't been on the 12 sets of tape that you've watched."
That, and Cosh adds, "We haven't played for a month, so we need to make sure that we tackle well."
SPECIAL TEAMS - The punting area could be the difference maker.
Syracuse will have a first-time punter with the loss of Rob Long to surgery for a benign brain tumor only found at the conclusion of regular season play. Long had a 43.8-yard average in doing 100 percent of the Orange's punting this year.
K-State holds the advantage in kickoff returns (25.8 yards to 23.0), while Syracuse has the slight advantage in punt returns (9.4 yards to 8.5 yards).
K-State's Josh Cherry has made 7-of-8 field goals with a long kick of 48 yards, while SU counters with Ross Krautman, who has made 17-of-18 field goals with a long of 48 yards.
THE SERIES: K-State defeated Syracuse 38-18 in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl; back in Phoenix in 2001, the Orange defeated the Wildcats 26-3 in the Insight.com Bowl
THE COACHES: Both Bill Snyder at K-State and Doug Marrone at Syracuse were hired prior to the 2009 season.
In his second turn with the Wildcats, Snyder has a 19-year coaching record of 149-79-1, which includes a 6-6 mark last year and a 7-5 record this year since his return.
Since 1990, Snyder has won 148 games to rank sixth among active coaches. Among active coaches overall, he ranks 12th and joins only Joe Paterno to have served at the same school for at least 18 years.
Marrone, a native of the Bronx and life-long Yankee fan, has Syracuse above .500 for the first time since 2001. His high school - Herbert H. Lehman High, is located less than 10 minutes from the stadium. His grandfather, Robert Thompson, used to be an usher at the old Yankee Stadium.
Prior to Syracuse, Marrone was the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, and prior to that the New York Jets. This is his first head coaching job.
• K-State has twice played games in the state of New York. The first was in 1934 when Pappy Waldorf's team tied Manhattan College, 13-13. Somewhat more recently, in 1966 K-State lost to Army, 21-6.
• K-State has converted on 39 of its 43 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line. Thirty-five of those have been TDs.
• The 'Cats are 5-2 this season when scoring first, and 128-26 since 1990.
• K-State is eighth in the nation in kickoff returns with a 25.8 average. When healthy, William Powell averaged 34.6 yards per return.
• K-State has scored in 176 straight games, which ranks 10th longest in the nation.
• Overall, K-State is 4-8 against Big East teams.
• Does practice matter? Thirty-one Syracuse players did not make it to NYC until Tuesday due to the weather.
• Syracuse has suspended starting defensive tackle Andrew Lewis and linebacker Brice Hawkes for the game.
• A winner of five road games, including four in the Big East.
• The Orangemen are playing 15 true-freshmen.
• A slow starter with just 58 first-quarter points through 12 games.
• Syracuse will be the home team and K-State the visitors.
• Big-time Mayor's bet: If K-State wins, Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner will send sausages and three cases of Syracuse Pale Ale to Manhattan; if KSU should lose, Manhattan mayor Bruce Snead will send three slabs of ribs from Cox Bros. BBQ and three types of beer from the Tallgrass Brewing Co.
• K-State is bowl eligible for the first time since 2006; Syracuse is bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.
• Teams are playing for the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy, named after the late owner of the New York Yankees.
ESPN: The game will be telecast by ESPN with a 2:22 (Central time) kickoff. The announcers will be Bob Wischusen and Brian Griese, with Eamon McAnaney on the sidelines.