Power Five Match-Up For Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
The Heart of Dallas Bowl has to be feeling like it pulled off a bit of a coup. While past match-ups certainly haven’t been awful, the pairing of Utah and West Virginia (the Mountaineers will be the home team) is one of the better match-ups in the eight-year history of the game. Texas Tech – Northwestern (2011) and Oklahoma State – Purdue (2013) were on the same level, but it was clear from the comments of bowl officials that they were excited that the Power Five clash worked out again this year. The teams meet on Tuesday Dec. 26 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
“I have been a long fan of Coach Whittingham’s play over the years, and in bowl games he’s been phenomenal. He’s 10-1,” Executive Director Brant Ringler said. “I think he leads the nation in winning percentage. We look forward to having the Utes down here. West Virginia is probably the team I have watched the most this year. I saw them win on the road at K-State and saw them at TCU. We are very excited about this match-up of two Power Five teams.”
Ringler observed “thankfully, West Virginia picked us”, when discussing the bowl selection process, and while not going into specifics, confirmed that several factors came into play.
“Our game is owned by ESPN, and we do work with a lot of bowls and conferences trying to make the best match-up possible,” he expanded. “The Heart of Dallas Bowl is contracted with the Big 12, so it probably made the best sense for them to pick us, and for recruiting purposes in the state of Texas. We feel like we got the best team [available].”
WVU Director of Athletics Shane Lyons added that there was program-wide support for the Dallas-based bowl.
“We have conversations that deal with the bowl game [personnel] but also with the coaches and student athletes. It’s the reward for them and for their season, and it was made clear to us that both the coaches and the student athletes were very excited about playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.”
While fans and media often look at the prestige or pecking order of each bowl in terms of the selection process, it appears that going to a new destination, one that current players have not been to, held some sway.
“It’s a great city and a great location for us,” Lyons said. “We are kind of making our rounds through the Big 12 bowls. It’s our 36th bowl overall, and this is the reward that we are looking for for our student athletes. Playing in the Cotton Bowl is really special, with its history and what it means to college football.”
Head coach Dana Holgorsen agreed with that angle.
“We are very familiar with Dallas and the Texas brand and what it means to the game of football,” he said. “It’s going to be great for our program. We pop in and out of Dallas all the time but don’t get to experience what it is like to be there. Getting to play the likes of Utah, we are very aware of their history in bowl games. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
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Holgorsen had no update on the current status of Will Grier’s injured throwing hand, but revealed that a checkup is pending.
“[Will] goes back to the doctor next week, I will go meet with them in Charlotte (after finals) and then evaluate it.”
Thirty-seven days will have elapsed between Grier’s surgery and the kickoff of the Heart of Dallas Bowl — an ambitious recovery schedule for a very serious injury.
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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham revelaed that strength and conditioning coach Doug Elisaia was Holgorsen’s roommate in college.
“I’m trying to get all the inside information on him,” Whittingham joked, before relaying Elisaia’s evaluation of Holgorsen as a very good guy. Holgorsen, for his part, was also in a jovial mood when discussing his former roommate, who played defensive tackle at Iowa Wesleyan, where Holgorsen was a wide receiver.
“I can tell you one thing, I could never beat him up,” he said with a laugh. “He was 6-1 and 290 pounds and he was a bad dude. He protected me most of the time. I am not going to test him in pregame for sure. He is a good guy and has done a great job with them.”