Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Syracuse is back in the postseason for the first time since 2004, and the postseason is back in the Big Apple for the first time since 1962. The team from the Little Apple is also back bowling -- just in time to be met by a whole bunch of snow. A blizzard dropped as much as 20 inches in parts of New York City on Sunday, but the house that mimics The House That Ruth Built is already cleared and fit for action. The teams may be less fit: Kansas State had to forgo outdoor practice in favor of a walkthrough in its hotel earlier this week, while Syracuse has had trouble getting its full roster in for the game.
Keep an eye on: The running backs. The ground game will take center stage on a cold and potentially blustery day, which is fine news for two teams built to run. Kansas State senior Daniel Thomas ranks second in the Big 12 with 1,495 rushing yards and is tied for the conference lead with 16 touchdowns. Syracuse senior Delone Carter has been banged up throughout his career, but posted his second straight 1,000-yard season and can wear teams down with his physical style. Thomas is the more dangerous playmaker of the pair -- and in the game, period -- but he drew short straw in terms of matchup. The Orange field the nation's No. 5 defense and are strong up front behind defensive end Chandler Jones and linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have the third-worst rush defense in the FBS and were particularly leaky down the stretch, surrendering 260.3 rush yards per game in three contests against Missouri, Colorado and North Texas.
Did you know: Syracuse is one of 10 FBS teams to record five road victories this season. Unfortunately for the Orange, they couldn't win at home, going just 2-4 in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome. The 'Cuse likes to refer to itself as "New York's College Team," which begs the question: Will a de facto home game carry the same curse as a real home game? The team will certainly be motivated to play its hardest for punter and senior captain Rob Long, who is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor and will be watching from the sidelines.
Final analysis: Long's absence factors into the Xs and Os of the game as well and is a big blow for a Syracuse team that is fairly anemic on offense and relies on one of the nation's best punters to win the field-position battle. Thomas gives Kansas State more big-play ability, but these are similar teams that will be aiming to carry out the same script: run the ball on offense and grind out clock, stuff the run on defense and force a mediocre passing attack into action. The Wildcats have had luck shaking things up with change-of-pace quarterback Collin Klein, but starter Carson Coffman won't do much against the Big East's stingiest pass defense (157.6 yards allowed per game). It's worth noting that Kansas State is 1-7 when Thomas rushes for 90 yards or fewer. As he goes, so go the 'Cats; as Carter goes, so goes the 'Cuse. The team that can sustain the run will likely prevail, and Carter should be able to tough out a few more yards against a leaky D.
The pick: Syracuse 17, Kansas State 14
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Kansas State: RB Daniel Thomas -- Thomas' stock is soaring after a career season. He's a powerful ball-carrier with a deceptive burst that allows him to pick up big chunks of yardage from the line of scrimmage. Thomas is most effective between the tackles and is a bit one-dimensional in his game. He won't fit every offense at the next level, but should be productive in a power running game. Grade: Second- to third-round prospect.
Syracuse: RB Delone Carter -- Carter is a multi-purpose back who's been a 1,000-yard rusher for the Orange each of the past two seasons. He's an elusive ball-handler and shows a lot of toughness in his game. Carter is also a solid receiver out of the backfield. He has the skills and style to hold down a roster spot as a third-down back or situational runner. Grade: Fourth-round prospect.