WVU, which was officially announced as the Wolfpack's opponent on Sunday night, played the Wolfpack twice in Atlanta in the Peach Bowl. WVU was drubbed 49-13 in 1972, then sprang a 13-10 upset in 1975, when basketball player Scotty McDonald snared a 50-yard touchdown pass from Dan Kendra in the fourth quarter. WVU then faced the Wolfpack in a home and home series in 1978 and 1979, losing both contests. Current WVU athletic director Oliver Luck was a participant in that last game, which occurred during his sophomore season.
Overall, WVU holds a 5-4 lead in the series with N.C. State.
The renewal was unsurprisingly met with characteristic enthusiasm from head coach Bill Stewart.
“I want to say thank you from the West Virginia football family, the University and most importantly from the people of the great state of West Virginia. We are thrilled to be a participant, and are very excited about this wonderful opportunity. It is a thrill to go up against the Wolfpack. They have a tremendous program. I look for a really good football game.”
While some observers are already trying to label the bowl invitation a disappointment, Stewart is having none of it.
“I see none whatsoever,” he said. “I have already gotten some calls from my players. We are proud of our 9-3 record, and proud of what we have shown the last four weeks. It's a real tribute to this team and this program.”
The Champs Sports Bowl, which is operated under the auspices of Florida Citrus Sports (the organization also runs the Capital One Bowl) was similarly upbeat about getting the Mountaineers. Steve Hogan, the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, indicated that the Mountaineers beat out Notre Dame in a head-to-head selection process, thought by some to be primed to take the Big East's spot in the game.
“We viewed Notre Dame as a ninth member of the Big East,” Hogan explained. “We are proud of what they accomplished, but at 7-5 versus a ranked 9-3 West Virginia team, we felt like they deserved to be here.”
The Champs bowl also considered Maryland as an ACC representative, but Hogan's desire to avoid regular season rematches obviated against their selection. The Wolfpack, like WVU, earned the bowl's respect on their own merits as well.
“We have a lot of respect for the job the coach has done, and we looked at their body of work. They have a win over a conference champion (UCF) and they beat Florida State. They easily could have had nine or ten wins.”
Bowl selection committee chairman Chuck Beverly echoed those thoughts, and anticipated a great match-up between West Virginia's nationally-ranked defense and a North Carolina State offense led by multi-talented quarterback Russell Wilson.
"Both NC State and West Virginia have enjoyed very successful seasons and we are already seeing a lot of excitement for this game in Orlando," Beverly said. “It’s going to be fun watching one of the nation’s best offenses face one of the best defenses.”
For his part, Stewart is familiar with Beverly as well. Assistant coach Steve Dunlap recruited Wilson while at N.C. State, and Stewart saw him play against Cincinnati this year while studying video in preparation for WVU's game against the Bearcats.
“I know he is a whale of a player. He has baseball skills, football skills and leadership skills. “
Plagued by shaky field conditions in the past, the bowl will now sport one of the most advanced playing surfaces in existence.
“The City of Orlando has replaced the surface with AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D, Hogan said. “There are about 200-300 installs of it already, including the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills in the NFL. A study done by Michigan State shows that it most closely mimics the performance of real grass, and that is what we based our decision on. We should have one of the best fields in the country.”
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It's not surprise when a veteran coach such as Stewart has ties to a coaching opponent, and this match-up is no exception.
“Tom O'Brien and I go way back,” he detailed. “When he was at Navy, I was at William & Mary, and when he was at UVA I was at North Carolina, and we had some battles. We have been friends for many many years. He's a heck of a football coach I consider him a friend.”
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Each school will be required to purchase 13,500 tickets.