WVU to Champs Sports Bowl
West Virginia is the No. 2 selection from the Big East Conference and NC State is the No. 3 pick from the ACC.
"We are thrilled and excited to be a participant and we are very much looking forward to this opportunity," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
West Virginia (9-3) wrapped up its regular season with a 35-14 victory over Rutgers on Saturday to earn a share of the Big East title with Connecticut and Pitt. The 21st-ranked Mountaineers won four Big East games in a row after a 1-2 start to league play. West Virginia has now either won outright or shared six conference titles since joining the Big East in 1991.
West Virginia’s nine victories this season have come against Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Maryland, UNLV, South Florida, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt and Rutgers with its three losses coming against LSU, Syracuse and Connecticut.
Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith has passed for 2,567 yards and 23 touchdowns, completing 65.8 percent of his pass attempts while throwing just six interceptions. He is coming off a career-best 352-yard passing performance against Rutgers yesterday.
NC State (8-4) also has a big-time playmaker at quarterback in junior Russell Wilson, who is completing 280-of-482 passes for 3,288 yards and 26 touchdowns. Most recently, Wilson tried 60 passes in State’s 38-31 loss at Maryland, the quarterback throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson is also a big running threat, gaining 394 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns.
"I know he is a whale of a player and just a great competitor," said Stewart. "This guy has baseball skills, football skills and he's got tremendous leadership skills. I got to see him play against Cincinnati because that was in our film swap. I just know what he can do and I know the record he's had. His stats are phenomenal and he's very much a top-flight, efficient passer."
The Wolfpack tied Maryland for second in the ACC Atlantic Division with a 5-3 record. Their eight wins this year have come against Western Carolina, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Florida State, Wake Forest and North Carolina, with their four losses coming against Virginia Tech, East Carolina, Clemson and Maryland.
Former Boston College coach Tom O’Brien wrapped up his fourth season at State and shows a 24-25 record with the Wolfpack. Overall, O’Brien is 99-70 in 14 years as a college head coach.
"Tom and I go way back when he was at the Naval Academy and I was at William & Mary," said Stewart. "Also, when he was at the University of Virginia I happened to be at North Carolina and we had some real battles there. I greatly respect him; he's a tremendous character gentleman, he's a heck of a football coach and a guy I consider a friend."
Stewart has a 28-11 record at West Virginia and will be coaching his fourth bowl game for the Mountaineers. Under Stewart’s watch West Virginia defeated Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, downed North Carolina in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl and lost to Florida State in last year’s Gator Bowl.
West Virginia is making its school-record ninth consecutive bowl appearance.
This year’s Champs Sports Bowl will be the third time West Virginia and North Carolina State have met in a bowl game. Twice the two teams played in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta – State defeating the Mountaineers 49-13 in 1972 and West Virginia gaining revenge in 1975 with a 13-10 triumph.
Overall, the schools have met nine times, the last meeting occurring in Morgantown in 1979 with NC State winning 38-14. West Virginia holds a narrow 5-4 advantage in the series.
Tickets, travel packages and hotel accommodations will also be announced later this evening.
This is the first year the Champs Sports Bowl is affiliated with the Big East Conference. The Champs Sports Bowl replaces the Gator Bowl among the conference’s bowl lineup.
The game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
Mountaineers Move Up to 21st in Coaches’ Poll
West Virginia jumped three spots to 21st in the final regular season ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll released on Sunday. The Mountaineers reentered the rankings a week ago at No. 24 after their 35-10 win at Pitt. West Virginia reached a high of No. 19 on Oct. 17 before losing to Syracuse 19-14 in Morgantown.
West Virginia moved up one spot in the AP poll this week to No. 22. This marks the sixth time in the last nine years West Virginia has finished the regular season ranked in the Top 25. The final poll will be released following the national championship game.
Connecticut also entered the AP rankings at No. 25 this week, giving the Big East two ranked teams for the first time since the preseason poll came out with Pitt No. 15 and West Virginia No. 25.
West Virginia Bowl Support
West Virginia has historical traveled well to bowl games. The average crowd for West Virginia’s last eight bowl appearances is 74,070 with a bowl-record 84,129 showing up for last year’s Gator Bowl against Florida State. Only once in the last eight years has the attendance dipped below 70,000 during WVU’s 2007 Gator Bowl appearance against Georgia Tech.
Last year’s Champs Bowl game at the Florida Citrus Bowl featuring Wisconsin and Miami drew a crowd of 56,747.
116 to Go For Noel
Senior Noel Devine still needs 116 yards rushing in the bowl game to become just the fourth running back in school history with three 1,000-yard seasons. The others are Amos Zereoue, Avon Cobourne and Steve Slaton. Cobourne is the only WVU player with four 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Devine’s production has dropped off dramatically since suffering a foot injury against LSU on Sept. 25, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry and scoring four rushing touchdowns. West Virginia coaches tried to get him a fifth during his final home game yesterday against Rutgers, but Devine fumbled trying to get in from the 1.
Sophomore Tavon Austin now has nine touchdowns this season on just 68 touches from the line of scrimmage. That averages out to a touchdown every 7 ½ times he touches the football.
Turnovers Crop Up Again
West Virginia had three red zone fumbles on Saturday against Rutgers and was close to having two more turnovers. The Mountaineers finished the regular season with 23 turnovers, 16 of those fumbles. West Virginia’s seven turnovers in losses to Syracuse and Connecticut cost it the outright conference championship.
The Mountaineers have only had three turnover-free games this year: UNLV, USF and Pitt.
West Virginia limited Rutgers to just 203 yards of offense and if not for a cheap touchdown late, WVU would have held the Scarlet Knights to just seven points. Rutgers managed 63 yards on the ground on Saturday; the Mountaineers have now held the opposition to less than 100 yards rushing in eight out of 12 games this season.
WVU’s defense has also permitted just three rushing touchdowns this season (two against LSU and one against Connecticut), the lowest total by a FBS program since Ohio State also allowed three in 2007, according to MSN radio analyst Jed Drenning’s research.
The Mountaineers also have a chance of finishing the season ranked among the nation’s top five in three different defensive categories. If it happens it will be the first time West Virginia has done that since 1996 when it finished first in total defense (217.5), second in rush defense (61.5), fourth in points per game (12.4) and fifth in pass defense (86.8).
This year’s D is second against the run (85.1), second in points per game (12.8) and third in total defense (251.3).
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