Selection Sunday has passed. That means no more conjecture on where your favorite teams will be playing. Those matchups have been announced. West Virginia has accepted an invitation to play Syracuse in Orlando. Indeed, on December 28, the Mountaineers renew an old rivalry in the Camping World Bowl.
Disappointment in Morgantown
The result is disappointing to fans. The sentiment is understandable for two reasons.
First, absent either of their upset losses, West Virginia would have been playing Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Fans surely remember the last matchup with Georgia. It began the Mountaineers’ short-lived period of national prominence (as we discussed here). Given the small margin between 10-1 and 8-3 this season, those upset losses remain hard to accept.
Second, many outlets ran projections that diverged from the contracts between the Big XII and their respective bowls. The Big XII runner-up was always going to the Sugar Bowl if the champion made the playoff. That is set by contract between the Big XII and the Sugar Bowl.
Additionally, most outlets projected West Virginia against Washington State in the Alamo Bowl this week. That was indeed a potentially juicy matchup. It would have been the first between these two schools in their histories. And it would have featured former mentor (Mike Leach) against mentee (Dana Holgorsen). Finally, the matchup would have pitted two high-powered quarterbacks against each other. Alas, Iowa State owned the tiebreaker and thus was always the likely Big XII placement into that bowl.
As a result, we picked West Virginia to play in the Camping World Bowl (though the opponent in our projection was Pitt). That was always the likely destination based on the complex set of contracts and rules governing the series of bowl games.
Renewing a Rivalry
Disappointment aside, the game is not without intrigue. Syracuse is arguably West Virginia’s third-biggest rival, with the bitterness between the two falling just short of the mutual hatred between either Pitt or Virginia Tech and the Mountaineers. Through the beginning of West Virginia’s modern era of college football, Syracuse might actually have eclipsed both at times. Don Nehlen, in fact, ran up the score against exactly one opponent: Syracuse.
The matchup against Syracuse, therefore, is an opportunity to renew a rivalry and allow the Mountaineers to make a statement. It could emphatically put aside any remaining doubts that West Virginia continues to rise after fleeing the collapsing Big East while its former Big East rivals struggle.
Who Plays and Who Coaches
For now, fans should assume that all healthy Mountaineers (other than players for whom the staff seeks to preserve a redshirt) will suit up for the matchup against the Orange until they hear otherwise. Speculation has, of course, built that some or all of West Virginia’s senior leaders would skip the game to avoid injury. As we wrote here, this has indeed become a trend.
But it remains unfair for anyone to suggest that any player would skip a game without significant consideration being given. David Sills has specifically confirmed his intention to play in the game. Sills and signal caller Will Grier seem to be on the same page in most instances, so it also seems likely Grier suits up.
As fans know, Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital announced last week that he was leaving West Virginia to become the Head Coach at Texas State. Spavital told the media that he hopes to be on the sideline for the Mountaineers’ bowl game, but Holgorsen recently said that he has not spoken with Spavital since the announcement was made. As a result, there is no official word yet whether Spavital will call the plays for the Mountaineers during the Camping World Bowl.
We will continue to provide updates as bowl preparation season continues. And we will provide our matchup notes and predictions closer to the game.