SU’s Babers, WVU’s Holgorsen Excited For Bowl Matchup
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An old rivalry is going to be renewed in Orlando.
West Virginia and Syracuse will meet in the Camping World Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28 at 5:15 p.m. in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.
The two programs are certainly very familiar with each other. They’ve met 60 times in a series that dates back to 1945 with Syracuse holding a 33-27 edge all-time. SU and WVU played one another annually from 1955 to 2011, the last 20 years they were both members of the Big East Football Conference. They also faced off in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in the Mountaineers’ first year in the Big 12.
Dana Holgorsen was West Virginia’s head coach during the tail end of that series, losing to Orange in the 2011 regular season at the Carrier Dome 49-24 and then again in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl 38-14.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers hasn’t been part of the series yet, though, having arrived at SU in 2016 after a successful two-year stint at Bowling Green (18-9).
“I’m getting caught up on (the WVU-SU rivalry) as we speak,” Babers said on a teleconference Sunday shortly after the bowl pairing was announced. “The fan base will be rabid about it, and we look forward to going against our old Big East foe.”
Babers may not know much about West Virginia, outside of one year (2003) he spent as the running back at Pitt (WVU won 52-31), but he’s faced off against Holgorsen in the past, first as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M from 2001-02 and then as the wide receiver coach at Baylor from 2008-11.
“I had an opportunity to sit down with (Holgorsen) during the telecast of last year’s national championship game, when we were both on ESPN, so I’ve gotten a chance to break bread with him before,” said Babers, whose club heads to Orlando rated No. 20 nationally with a 9-3 record. “He’s obviously off the Texas Tech tree, and he likes to throw it all over the yard. They are really fast and have an underrated defense.”
This is the first season in which the Orange have had a winning record since 2013 and the first time they’ve gone to a bowl game since that year, when they defeated Minnesota (21-17) in the Texas Bowl.
“I know we’re going to be very excited about this game. (West Virginia) goes bowling all the time, but this is new ground for us,” said Babers. “We’ve got to first make sure they don’t act like the new kid at school and get so excited about their surroundings that they forget they have to get ready for a fantastic West Virginia football team.”
This will be the Mountaineers’ third bowl game in Orlando in the last nine years. WVU, in the final game of the Bill Stewart era, lost to Russell Wilson and North Carolina State (23-7) in 2010, when the postseason event was called the Champs Sports Bowl. Then in 2016, when it was the Russell Athletic Bowl, West Virginia fell to Miami (31-14). Holgorsen was WVU’s coach against the Hurricanes, and now he hopes for a different result in the bowl that has changed names again.
“We’re excited to be going to the Camping World Bowl in Orlando again,” said Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers are currently 8-3 and ranked No. 15 nationally. “From a proximity standpoint, it’s spectacular; it’s perfect for us. We’re familiar with the state of Florida, with Orlando and how things work.
“We have a great old Big East matchup with Syracuse, and I’m excited about that, and I know our fans will be excited about rekindling some old memories.”
Holgorsen, who is taking WVU to a bowl game for the seventh time in his eight seasons with the Mountaineers, knows Babers, even though they’ve never faced off as head coaches.
“I don’t know a whole lot about (the Orange) personnel-wise. Coach Babers and I go back a long ways, though,” said Holgorsen, who is 2-4 in bowl games in his time with West Virginia. “He spent some time at Baylor, and took that Air Raid system with him to Bowling Green and then on Syracuse, and has had unbelievable success with that system. So, I’m very familiar with what they do.
“They are fast-paced, throw it a lot and score a bunch of points. They also play really good on defense, and their turnover margin is out of sight (+13, which is third in the FBS). That sounds like a Big 12 school to me.”
Holgorsen was also asked if any of his seniors would skip the bowl game to start preparing for their pro careers. Quarterback Will Grier is the most important of those in question.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s an interesting question, and it’s a question every coach is going to be asked now. I’ve been on the road recruiting this past week, and I am up in New York right now for some meetings. The players have had this past week off, and I’ve not really talked to them. We’ll reconvene next weekend, and I’ll see then where we stand at that time.”
That’s also the case with WVU’s offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who recently accepted the head coaching position at Texas State. Holgorsen said he hasn’t spoken to Spavital since his press conference to accept the TSU job. He said Spavital is welcome to be a part of WVU’s bowl game if it works for his schedule. If not, Holgorsen will assume any of the responsibilities that Spavital is not able to fulfill.
“I think I’m qualified for that,” said Holgorsen. “I have plenty of experience.”