THE OPPONENT

Syracuse opened the season with losses to Penn State and Northwestern but went 4-4 in its first season in the ACC to sneak into a bowl.

5 p.m., Reliant Stadium, Houston • TV: ESPN • Radio: 100.3 FM

Line: Gophers by 4½ • Series: Gophers lead 3-1

Gophers offense vs. Syracuse defense

The Gophers have played 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown, including losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. Syracuse ranks 59th in the country in scoring defense (26.1 points per game) and 26th against the run (138.3 yards per game). Advantage: Syracuse

Syracuse offense vs. Gophers defense

The Gophers played terrific defense down the stretch, holding Penn State (10 points), Wisconsin (20) and Michigan State (14) well below their season averages. Syracuse senior Drew Allen started the year at quarterback but dual-threat sophomore Terrell Hunt took over in Game 3. Jarrod West, the team’s leading receiver, is expected back from injury for this game. Advantage: Gophers

Special teams

Syracuse sophomore Ryan Norton connected for his two longest career field goals (42 and 44 yards) against Boston College. Gophers senior Chris Hawthorne’s career long is 45 yards, and he is 4-for-5 this season on kicks of at least 40 yards. Syracuse didn’t return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown this season. Marcus Jones had one of each for Minnesota. Advantage: Gophers

Intangibles

The Gophers are 0-5 in their past five bowl games since defeating Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl in Nashville. Syracuse is 4-1 in its past five bowl games, including victories over Kansas State and West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Advantage: Syracuse

Prediction

The Gophers showed marked improvement offensively in last year’s 34-31 bowl game loss to Texas Tech, but Syracuse will be a much tougher defensive test. Fortunately for Minnesota, the Gophers have an even tougher defense of their own.

 

Gophers 20, Syracuse 17

NUMBERS TO KNOW

17-10

Score of the Gophers’ home victory over Syracuse last year.

9

The Gophers are trying for their second nine-win season since 1905.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT …

Donnell Kirkwood

Gophers junior ran for two TDs in last year’s victory over Syracuse.