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Steve Novotney Says, "It's the Payback Bowl"

The Russell Athletic Bowl?

That's the bowl No. 16 WVU accepted? The former Blockbuster Bowl?

On a Wednesday? At 5:30 p.m.?

Against Miami? THAT Miami?

Is it just me, or did most Mountaineer fans hope for something bigger although head coach Dana Holgorsen was unable to beat a team this season from the state of Oklahoma? I find myself as perplexed over this Russell Athletic Bowl as I am about a non-conference-winning team having the chance for a national championship. Now, c'mon. I root for Ohio State, but a win's a win, right?

WVU has recorded a 10-win campaign, the ninth such season in the history of Mountaineer football, and finished the year in second place in the Big 12 Conferences with seven victories and two defeats against conference opponents. They beat the Longhorns in Austin and Texas Tech and Iowa State on the road and scored solid wins at home against Baylor, TCU, and Kansas while employing one of this year's most potent offenses. Despite the fact quarterback Skylar Howard was projected by no one to be a Division-I starter, he guided the unit in gaining an average of nearly 507 offensive yards per game.

The Mountaineers' offensive leaders included Howard with 26 TD tosses, 10 interceptions, and a total of 3,194 yards; Justin Crawford gained 1,168 yards with 157 rushes; and Shelton Gibson paced all receivers with 927 yards with 40 catches and eight touchdowns.

It's been a better-than-I-thought season because of Howard's surprising yet inconsistent performance. I didn't believe he had D-I talent and that Holgorsen had screwed up, but the signal caller has used his teammates very well, and his throwing has been far more efficient than I believed possible.

Now I'm not sure what bowl I would have preferred, especially after reviewing the matchups for all 41 games included in this year's college postseason, and after the shellacking to Oklahoma at home, I knew the team's bid wouldn't be of much significance, but the Russell Athletic Bowl against the Hurricanes just seems dull, and that's likely because I was hoping for a matchup against the ACC's Pitt Panthers now that the two programs have agreed to resurrect the "Backyard Brawl" in a couple of years.

The Panthers were often impressive while accumulating an 8-4 record, including three huge victories in the final quarter of the season. In the last game Pitt defeated Syracuse 76-61 and the two teams set a record by scoring a combined 20 touchdowns.

But lots of offense, a built-in and storied rivalry, traveling fans, and solid TV ratings obviously were not the right ingredients for the Mountaineers this season because the Big 12 agreed to a partnership with Russell Athletic, and the chosen matchup is between the Mountaineers and a team they have managed to defeat only three times in nearly 20 meetings back in the Big East Conference days.

So Miami it is, an outfit that started the season 4-0 before losing four straight to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. The Hurricanes, though, completed the schedule with 5-3 record in the ACC with victories over Pitt, Virginia, N.C. State, and Duke in the final four games.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya tossed 23 touchdowns and only seven picks while collecting 3,250 passing yards; tailback Mark Walton gained 1,065 stripes with 192 carries; and receiver Ahmmon Richards caught 46 balls for 866 yards.

Although Miami fans will need to drive a short distance north to make the nationally televised Russell Athletic Bowl something of a home game, WVU faithful will have the chance to travel to warmer temperatures to watch the first game between these two teams in 13 years. The Hurricanes, once a perennial powerhouse in college football when competing in the Big East Conference, were an annual opponent for the Mountaineers for more than a decade and, yes, the men from Miami recorded a lopsided advantage in that 19-game series.

So, it's about payback, right? I'm positive I am not the only WVU fan who recalls that one Saturday in 1996 when Tremain Mack blocked Brian West's punt and Nathaniel Brooks returned it for a game-winning touchdown with just 29 ticks left to play.

Yeah, let's make it the "Payback Bowl."

Categories: Commentary