PULLMAN – Washington State’s resurgent 2015 football season will continue into the postseason as the Cougars have accepted an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 26 in El Paso, Texas.
The Cougars (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) will face Miami (8-4, 5-3 ACC). The Hurricanes won four of their last five games under interim coach Larry Scott, who took over after head coach Al Golden was fired in October, one day after Miami’s 58-0 loss to Clemson.
The teams will arrive in El Paso on Dec. 22 and participate in pregame events such as dinner with members of the U.S. armed forces at Fort Bliss and visits to a hospital and a ranch.
WSU has an allotment of 6,000 tickets, about 800 of which were preordered by fans before the bowl destination was announced. Athletic director Bill Moos also says that he expects the Cougars will have some local fans who were supporters of coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and that some of those Texan supporters will be at the game.
“He’s kind of like a folk hero down there,” Moos said.
Many of WSU’s assistant coaches are on the road recruiting, and will remain so even as the Cougars resume bowl practices.
“The ones in town will run the practices,” Leach said. “And you’ll just have a smaller group but we can still get good work in.”
The Cougars will initially spend their bowl practices spending extra time developing younger players who were not primary contributors this season, focusing on game prep as the bowl date approaches.
The Sun Bowl was the fourth Pac-12-affiliated bowl to select a team. Stanford will play in the Rose Bowl by virtue of winning the Pac-12 championship game, and the Alamo Bowl began the selection process by choosing the Oregon Ducks.
Moos intimated that bowl executives expressed concern over the health status of quarterback Luke Falk, who missed the Apple Cup after sustaining a concussion against Colorado that knocked him out of the game. Both Leach and Moos said that Falk is currently healthy, and Leach added that he would be available to play in a game right now if needed.
The Holiday Bowl heavily considered taking the Cougars, but ultimately the prospect of selecting USC, the Pac-12 championship game’s other participant, outweighed WSU’s breakthrough season. UCLA will play in the Foster Farms Bowl while the Utah Utes will take on rival BYU in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
By avoiding the bowl game in Las Vegas, which is played on Dec. 19, the Cougars are able to squeeze in an extra week of bowl practices. Furthermore, the WSU academic calendar would pose a problem, given that finals are the same week as the bowl game.
“If we played the 19th, it would be a huge interference with finals,” Leach said. “It would be a logistical nightmare.”
Although former Georgia coach Mark Richt has agreed to become the new Hurricanes coach, Scott is expected to coach the team in the bowl game and is believed to be a candidate to join Richt’s staff – he began the season as the Hurricane’s tight ends coach – although he said he has not had those talks with Miami’s new coach.
“Right now it’s kind of like you’re at that point where it’s just about getting your team ready for this experience,” Scott said. “Right there you’re shifting your mindset and focus to what we have to do to get ready to go. Those things are going to work themselves out.”
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who already ranks No. 5 in the school’s all-time passing yardage list, leads the Hurricanes. Kaaya completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and just over 3,000 yards in 11 games this season, while throwing just four interceptions.
While Scott says he has not yet spent much time studying his opponent, the reputation of WSU’s Air Raid offense precedes the Cougars.
“I do know of Coach Leach’s reputation and what he’s done with quarterbacks and what he does offensively, as far as being wide open and getting the ball around a lot, based on the perimeter and those things,” Scott said. “I do know he has a reputation for that and I’ve watched and admired what he’s done. … Obviously, I know about their quarterback and all the yards and touchdowns and things he’s thrown for this year.”
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