MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With the college football bowl lineup falling into place Sunday, here are the top destinations for West Virginia. (This presumes Oklahoma landing in the College Football Playoff and Baylor beating Texas to cement a Sugar Bowl berth):
1. LIBERTY BOWL
Where: Memphis, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
When: Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m. (ESPN)
Who: Big 12 vs. SEC (Think Arkansas, Georgia, Auburn)
Why: Back to Beale Street? Even after West Virginia sold only about half of last year’s 8,000 allotted tickets? Bowl sources told MetroNews a return trip is most likely, even though schools and game organizers typically aim to avoid such. WVU’s fifth-place Big 12 finish won’t prevent the Mountaineers from falling to the Liberty, which sits sixth in the league’s bowl pecking order. (The Texas Bowl picks fifth.)
The skinny: Last year’s game in Memphis—staged on a Monday—came on the heels of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, which drew so many thousands of alumni to Atlanta it sure felt like a bowl trip. (Can still taste the Mountain Mama shots!) With the Liberty shifting to Saturday, Jan. 2 this season, there’s less work to miss.
2. CACTUS BOWL
Where: Phoenix, Chase Field
When: Jan. 2, 10:50 p.m. (ESPN)
Who: Big 12 vs. Pac-12 (Think Arizona State or Cal)
Why: After the litany of noon kickoffs this season, why not end it by playing football until 3 a.m.? Even though the Cactus selects seventh among the Big 12 affiliates, WVU players no doubt would overlook the minor step-down in prestige to spend New Year’s in Arizona.
The skinny: The major obstacle here: Exorbitant travel costs from Morgantown. Perhaps some airline can be goaded into allowing the Pride of West Virginia tubas as carry-ons? Or maybe just bill Ken Kendrick?
3. TEXAS BOWL
Where: Houston, NRG Stadium
When: Dec. 29, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Who: Big 12 vs. SEC (Think Texas A&M)
Why: West Virginia beat Texas Tech last month and, with a win at K-State this week, will finish a game ahead of the Raiders in the Big 12 standings. But bowl organizers care less about standings in comparison to the proximity of Tech fans—not to mention a chance to reignite a series with the Aggies that dates back to 1927.
The skinny: Geography bites WVU on this one.
4. RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL
Where: Orlando, Fla., Orlando Citrus Bowl
When: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Who: Big 12 vs. ACC (Think North Carolina or Florida State)
Why: OK, so standings matter enough that an at-best 8-4 West Virginia won’t jump 10-win Oklahoma State or TCU for this one. (Had TCU lost to Baylor and slipped to 9-3, there might have been scant justification for sending OSU to the Alamo Bowl and the Frogs to Memphis, but alas, TCU deserves better.)
The skinny: Direct flights from every airport on Earth and the chance for WVU to be seen by potential Florida recruits is an allure. Plus there was a brief period where Pitt lined up as a possible opponent. But some of the enticement diminishes around playing the middle of three bowl games in 14 days at the Citrus Bowl Stadium.