WVU secured a bowl berth in their final game of the season against Kansas. This is huge for WVU as they will get increased exposure to a national audience and also additional weeks of practice, which is crucial for player development. Additionally, with the likelihood that some players will opt-out to protect from injury or to transfer, we, as fans, will get to see some new faces. These young players will also have a chance showcase their skillset to earn a spot in the 2022 starting lineup.
As of right now, it seems like WVU will play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (Big 12 vs Big 10) in Phoenix, Arizona on December 28th. However, bowl selection won’t be made until after the conference championship games are played, and it is still possible WVU ends up in the Liberty Bowl (Big 12 vs SEC), the Cheez-It Bowl (Big 12 vs ACC), the First Responder Bowl (AAC or ACC or Big 12), or the Texas Bowl (Big 12 vs SEC). There are many potential opponents with all these moving parts, but there are definitely some matchups that would be more entertaining for fans than most. Below is a breakdown of the top 3 matchups I would like to see as a Mountaineer fan:
Penn State (Guaranteed Rate Bowl) –
This bowl game would be a matchup between two former rivals, and it would be their first matchup in nearly 30 years. Penn State has dominated the historical matchups at 48-9-2. However, Penn State has been disappointing the past 2 years, finishing 4-5 in 2020 and 7-5 this year.
The matchup is interesting on paper. Penn State has a middle of the road offense (83rd in points per game and 87th in yards per game), but their defense is elite, allowing only 16.7 points per game (6th in the country). However, Penn State does not win by sacking the quarterback; they rank 112th in the nation with a 4.46 sack rate. WVU’s biggest weakness is the offensive line, and the defense has been solid all year. I think WVU could play a very competitive game against Penn State and potentially win, which would be huge for team and fan morale.
The matchup would also draw in attention from recruits. WVU and Penn State overlap heavily in their recruiting areas, but when a Penn State offer rolls in, the recruits usually choose Happy Valley over Morgantown. Playing a competitive game, or winning, would showcase that WVU has a blossoming program with potential for playing time and exposure. A win would not in anyway mean that recruits would magically start choosing WVU over Penn State moving forward, but it could certainly change some recruits’ minds over the coming years.
South Carolina (Liberty Bowl) –
I’m going to call this the Battle for Neal Brown. As you may recall, it was rumored that South Carolina had Neal Brown on its list of finalists for its vacant head coach position last season. They ultimately chose Shane Beamer, son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. Beamer has helped steer the Gamecocks in the right direction, increasing their win total from 2 to 6 in his one season at head coach. This team also made the news at the beginning of the season when they had to start a graduate assistant, Zeb Noland, at quarterback due to injuries.
However, outside of these interesting scenarios and story lines, the Gamecocks are nothing more than a middle of the road team. Their biggest win of the season was against Auburn, and half of their wins came against non-Power 5 teams. They do not have a quarterback on the roster that has passed for over 1,000 yards, and none of their running backs have rushed for over 600. South Carolina’s biggest strength is their pass defense where they rank 26th nationally in completion percentage against and 11th in passing yards allowed per game. I like this matchup for WVU, and I think it should be a very winnable game. A WVU win in a bowl game versus an SEC team to get to 7 wins would be a great way to end the season.
Louisville (First Responders’ Bowl) –
This is the least likely scenario as it would mean that one of Baylor or Oklahoma State do not play in New Year’s bowl game. However, it would be great to see WVU and Louisville reunite on the field. WVU and Louisville were in the Big East together before WVU ended up in the Big 12 and Louisville the ACC. It was actually Louisville who was bumped out of the final Big 12 spot by WVU, which adds even more intrigue the matchup.
Historically, this series has been close, with WVU leading the series 10 wins to 3 losses. The games in the Big East were always an exciting watch. In their 7 matchups during the Big East days, the winning team has only won by more than one score twice. Louisville was also the team the Mountaineers played when Steve Slaton and Pat White had their breakout games in the triple overtime thriller in Morgantown.
On the field, Louisville is an exciting, offense-oriented team led by the electric Malik Cunningham. Cunningham is following in the footsteps of former Cardinal legend Lamar Jackson; he has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,700 yards this season so far. Additionally, he has a chance to pull of a rare feat of throwing for 20 touchdowns on the season (at 18 currently) and rushing for 20 touchdowns (at 19 currently). With Louisville defense being below average, this game could end up a shoot-out that harkens back to the old Big East matchups where the Mountaineer and Cardinals combined for more than 60 points in 4 of their 7 matchups.
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