WVU Bowl Breakdown
West Virginia has a handful of potential bowl destinations on the boards. Where might the Mountaineers land? Here’s the breakdown.
As of now, the Liberty (Memphis), Cactus (Phoenix), Texas (Houston) and Zaxby’s (Dallas), are the four destinations that are the most in play. While the Camping World (Orlando) is in the middle of the pecking order where the Mountaineers sit, the specter of a return visit to the same bowl destination as a year ago is one item that most schools, and the bowls themselves, try to stay away from. Of course, no rule is absolute (Oklahoma State figures to make a return trip to the Alamo Bowl, depending on the outcome of the Big 12 Championship game), but that’s a fairly good premise from which to start.
With that in mind, here are the lower tier bowls, and the Big 12 attendees in each over the last three years. Keep this handy, so you avoid picks like one ESPN pundit who predicted a WVU – Miami rematch in Orlando. The Big 12, ESPN and the bowls try to lay out the best schedule that will attract the biggest numbers of fans overall, and that will provide draws for viewers.
“I think from an excitement perspective you want to be able to showcase different teams,” Alamo Bowl representative Brandon Logan told BlueGoldNews.com. “[A repeat] wouldn’t be the ideal situation. But at the same time, people want to be entertained, and if we can produce that there might not be a problem with it.”
That, of course would depend largely on the opponent. If WVU got a huge name opposite, (say, Notre Dame) that might help. Still, it’s a repeat destination. So, while never saying never, we knock out the Camping World as a realistic destination for the Mountaineers. Iowa State, this year’s surprise team, would be a human interest draw against the Irish – a traditional name vs a newcomer.
It’s been three years since West Virginia visited Memphis for the Liberty Bowl, so that helps. So too does the distance, which is driveable for Mountaineer fans. Those two factors probably put the west Tennessee destination at the top of the heap, but there’s also another factor looming. Is that what ESPN wants? Just how much clout does the goliath of sports broadcasting have? The quick answer is “a lot”, but Logan says TV does not totally set the agenda.
“It is a factor,” he admitted. “Of course you want media exposure, and you want to make sure everyone involved is getting value. But at the same time, we have our own independent process of selecting the teams and making sure it’s a good fit.”
Is there a natural draw for the Mountaineers in the Liberty? There’s probably not one that moves the TV needle a great deal, but Missouri is reasonably close, and that would set up a repeat of the just concluded AdvoCare Invitational basketball championship. OK, that’s a bit thin, but the Tigers are a quality name.
It’s just been two years since the Mountaineers visited the desert for the Cactus Bowl, but there would be one undeniable draw — Arizona. Envision, for a moment, a West Virginia – Rich Rodriguez bowl match-up. It’s uncertain how many fans would travel cross-country to see that, but the pregame hype would be high on the scale for the pre-New Year’s bowls. The Wildcats might be headed for a bit lower bowl, and Arizona State would certainly fume if, after beating UA, it was relegated to a lower game, but in general teams within a loss of each other can be shuffled around in the bowl pecking order without too much angst. Bump that difference to two games, and it’s much more difficult to justify a leap in the selection process, but when teams are within one game of each other, most bets are off. Note that WVU, Kansas State and Iowa State finished 7-5, while Texas and Texas Tech were 6-6.
“We have a team selection committee, and we look at a number of factors,” said Logan, doubtless describing the process employed by most of the lower-tier bowls. “It’s more than just records to us.”
Then there’s the Texas and Zaxby’s bowls, but both of those are possibilities of much less likelihood. Again, they can’t be ruled out, but a Texas Longhorns slot in that bowl, again nodding to the power of the Longhorn Network, seems a fit. Texas Tech, which squeaked into bowl eligibility by upsetting UT in the last game of the regular season, looks to have the Zaxby’s spot. That would leave WVU and K-State, and it makes more sense to put the Wildcats in the Cactus, where they have never played. Again, the narratives are a big draw.
“I think people like a good story,” Logan said. “That’s what you want to identify and communicate those as to why this game matters. Whether it’s a coach that used to be at one University or a first-time visitor, there’s always a narrative to tell.”
All of these suppositions likely depend on Oklahoma beating TCU in the Big 12 Championship game and earning a spot in the CFP, while the Horned Frogs make one of the New Year’s Day bowls. If the Sooners were upset, they would still have a strong case for making one of the New Year’s bowls themselves, so that wouldn’t be an automatic crusher, but if one or the other did not, that would cause some serious bumping up and down the bowl lineup.
While West Virginia has had fewer fans at bowl games than the 20,000 it used to send forth to Jacksonville, Atlanta, Charlotte and the like, the Mountaineers still enjoy a healthy respect among bowl committees.
“WVU has a very engaged fan base, and they are very passionate about West Virginia,” Logan said during his trip to campus in late November. “They are willing to travel all across the country, and that’s something that resonates with [bowl committees] .”
Had WVU knocked off Texas, the Mountaineers would have been in position to make an Alamo Bowl push, as it would have been within one game of Oklahoma State. That two-game gap makes all the difference, though, so at this point it looks as if Memphis or Phoenix are the two most likely spots for a holiday trip for West Virginia fans.