MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The disappointment lingers after West Virginia’s two-game losing streak to conclude the regular season pushed the Mountaineers from a New Year’s bowl game or even a potential College Football Playoff berth into a far more unknown position.
But there is still football to be played, and that’s never a bad thing – even if last year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl proved an exception to that rule.
Though West Virginia’s precise bowl location won’t be known until Sunday, the possibilities are easy enough to whittle down based on the Big 12’s bowl contracts. At the moment, the Alamo, Camping World and Texas Bowls loom as the most likely possibilities. Alamo Bowl and Camping World Bowl reps were on hand for the Oklahoma-West Virginia game.
Based on what we know, here are the three most attractive possibilities in terms of opponent and location:
No. 1: Alamo Bowl vs. Washington State (Dec. 28)
The Alamo is synonymous with a big shootout, and one between the Mountaineers and Cougars would have the potential to even outdo the regular-season finale against Oklahoma. Dana Holgorsen is a Mike Leach disciple, and this would be his first opportunity to go head-to-head against his mentor. Like Will Grier, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew is likely to finish in the Top 5 of the Heisman Trophy race.
However, it’s likely going to require an upset in one of the conference championship games for the Cougars to drop down to the Alamo. Currently ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, Washington State is in position to sneak into the Fiesta Bowl as an at-large team. A win by a team like Texas or Northwestern this week would change that.
No. 2: Camping World Bowl vs. Syracuse (Dec. 28)
Attractive from both an aesthetic and historical standpoint, though a trip to Orlando always hits the wallet pretty hard if the whole family is involved.
The Mountaineers and Orange locked horns every year from 1955-2012, so it’s a matchup that should mean something to both fan bases. Built-in storylines are also attractive to bowl organizers, and this has more than one. Both teams are averaging more than 40 points per game. West Virginia is ninth nationally at 41.9 points per game, while Syracuse is 12th with 40.8 points per game.
No. 3: Texas Bowl vs. LSU (Dec. 27)
It will take a wild sequence of events for LSU to trickle down to the Texas Bowl — a combination of Utah, Northwestern and/or Pitt winning their conference championship games and starting a massive domino effect that affects the teams earning New Year’s Day at-larges. And if Georgia beats Alabama for the SEC title, you can forget about it since it would all but certainly give that league two playoff teams and boost its remaining bowl teams.
But it’s hard to find a better combination of pre-game tailgaters than these two fan bases, even if a parking lot in Houston isn’t the ideal environment for a party of that magnitude.
The potential of seeing West Virginia’s powerful offense against LSU’s strong defense is a fun one – although the Tigers are apparently capable of getting into shootouts as well, as their 74-72 seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M would indicate.
Most likely: Camping World vs. N.C. State
Several national bowl projections are calling for this to be West Virginia’s bowl matchup, but whether or not it’s an attractive one depends on if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty type.
A bowl matchup that would prove more resilient than Mother Nature, providing an obvious storyline game organizers will jump for.
Hurricane Florence kept the Mountaineers and Wolfpack from meeting this September, so this would provide a convenient rain check. It’s another great quarterback matchup – Grier is second in the nation with 350.1 ypg, while NC State’s Ryan Finley is seventh with 307.3 ypg.
The only thing keeping this from being near the top of the list is the fact the teams will play again next year in Morgantown. Even though both rosters will look much different when they face off in Week 3, the prospect of playing the same school twice in a four-game span removes some of the luster.
The nightmare matchup: Alamo Bowl vs. Utah
The game you’ll get if Santa Claus thinks you’ve been naughty this year. A repeat of last year’s Heart of Dallas bowl, just moved to the heart of San Antonio.
No thank you.
But at least it would be indoors.
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