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West Virginia Bowl Game Outlook: Navigating the Mountaineers’ postseason possibilities

Let’s explore each possible bowl destination

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Hello readers. It has been a while, mostly because I have struggled between work, graduate school, and a general antipathy about Neal’s tenure to find time to write. But you’re in luck!

I am here today to talk to you about West Virginia’s bowl opportunities. Have a structured settlement and need cash now? Well, good news — they’re probably sponsoring a bowl.

Let’s start off by going over some basic things.

First, the Big 12 Conference bowl order. How you finished only matters for the first game; the remaining games will pick in order but can select any available and eligible team:

The Big 12 Champion will receive a NY6 Bowl. As the Sugar Bowl is hosting a CFP Semifinal, that means the winner of the conference championship game will take an at-large bid, likely the Cotton Bowl vs. Missouri.

Scenario A: If Texas (a) wins the conference title game and (b) gets a playoff spot, the next highest-ranked team would likely be Oklahoma, but the Sooners seem unlikely to slip into a NY6 Bowl. They’ve been consistently behind Missouri and Penn State, and the committee is unlikely to drop Alabama out of the picture, and even less likely to drop a one-loss Florida State.

Scenario B: If Oklahoma State wins, they would likely get the Cotton Bowl versus Missouri. The Committee rankings would be instructive but not entirely determinative for the remaining two “at-large” bids. Texas wouldn’t be dead, but I would not be surprised if they’d drop to the Alamo Bowl which, yes, would make their fans extremely mad and would be extremely funny.

For purposes of this article, though, we’re going to assume Scenario A.

BOWL ORDER

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) vs. PAC 12
Pop Tarts Bowl (Orlando) vs. ACC/Notre Dame
Texas Bowl (Houston) vs. SEC
Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. Group of 5 Pool Team
Guaranteed Rate Bowl (Phoenix) vs. Big Ten
Armed Services/First Responders Bowl (Ft Worth/Dallas) vs. ACC/CUSA/AAC*
Independence Bowl (Shreveport) vs. PAC 12

* these two bowls are flex picks and will coordinate with each other on matchups

Secondly, to dispel a myth, WVU hasn’t traveled well to a bowl in like a decade, and that does matter to an extent. Each of the bowls has a slightly different formula for how they will consider their selection. Some bowls care about putting butts in seats; some, especially the ESPN-owned bowls, will look at matchups for TV purposes. Others are also interested in how well you travel generally (e.g., are you driving distance and won’t sell hotel rooms, etc.). Sorting out the exact mix each bowl has is basically roulette, but it’s worth keeping in mind, especially because who the opponent is can dictate some of these things.

Finally, these are just some mildly informed projections. I don’t have any real insider knowledge about any of these things.

So, let’s get to it. For purposes of where WVU can go, we can safely eliminate NY6 and the Alamo Bowl — barring Scenario B above, Oklahoma seems a mortal lock to appear there versus Arizona. I also think it’s virtually impossible for us to fall to the Independence Bowl.


POP-TARTS BOWL

Likely Opponent(s): Notre Dame, NC State

Why WVU Could Go Here: WVU has appeared in this bowl a number of times in its various iterations (Camping World, Champs Sports, Russell Athletic, Micron PC, CarQuest) — we’re tied for all-time appearances, but are 0-5 in those games — each of those has been relatively well attended, and both Notre Dame and NC State would travel well.

Why WVU Won’t Go Here: Despite having been selected five times, WVU hasn’t been picked by the bowl since 2018 when we lost to Syracuse in Dana’s swan song. Oklahoma State at 9-4 and probably still ranked would be very attractive to them, especially against a ranked Notre Dame or NC State. Kansas State also travels extremely well and has never been selected, so that will go into the matrix for them.

Overall Likelihood: 35-45%.

Summary: There are reasons to think WVU could get selected, but I feel like the trend/momentum is against it. The bigger thing here is it highlights the need for the conference to get a second/third-tier bowl tie-in east of the Mississippi.


TAXACT TEXAS BOWL

Likely Opponent(s): Texas A&M, Auburn

Why WVU Could Go Here: WVU was almost picked for this game the last time we were bowl-eligible, in no small part because we have a large alumni presence in the Houston area. We’ve never been selected for this bowl, and it would be a change of pace for our fans and get to face, record aside, a Brand Name opponent.

Why WVU Won’t Go Here: The SEC pick will be, I think, determinative. If they don’t get Texas A&M, they almost certainly will pick Oklahoma State or Kansas State. They may want either of them anyway, though, just for TV/Travel stuff.

Overall Likelihood: 45-65%.

Summary: I think there’s still a good chance we get selected here, but a lot of variables to be considered.


AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Likely Opponent(s): Memphis, Tulane/SMU loser, App State

Why WVU Could Go Here: WVU is a pretty natural pick for the Liberty Bowl. Kansas, one of the remaining available teams, was here last year, and Bowls don’t particularly like to have the same team twice.

Why WVU Won’t Go Here: Iowa State travels extremely well, and if the bowl has Memphis, that could be a factor since Memphis will do a good job of selling tickets but not much else.

Overall Likelihood: 55-75%.

Summary: This to me feels like the vibe, but I hate the matchups.


GUARANTEED RATE BOWL

Likely Opponent(s): Maryland, Wisconsin, Northwestern

Why WVU Could Go Here: If we’re still available, we’d be an extremely attractive choice for the bowl, especially if they pick Maryland. We’ve been selected three times for this bowl going back to 1998 when it was the Insight.com Bowl.

Why WVU Won’t Go Here: We might honestly just ask to not be selected. We’ve been picked three times, and all three were kind of bad travel games for us. If Kansas were on the board still, they’d be a good pick here anyway. The last two years have seen pretty low attendance (sub 25k for both our game (if you can call it that) against Minnesota, and for Oklahoma State vs. Wisconsin) so they’d probably be very happy with Iowa State if available.

Overall Likelihood: 50-70%.

Summary: I had kind of talked myself into this being our landing spot, but the more I think about it, the more I think we’d honestly pass on this. It’s just a huge pain for our fans, and even more so this year because it’s on the day after Christmas.


LOCKHEED MARTIN ARMED FORCES BOWL OR SERVPRO FIRST RESPONDERS BOWL

Likely Opponent(s): Syracuse, Sun Belt Team Of Your Choice, Army*

Why WVU Could Go Here: So as I mentioned above, these two bowls sort of work together, and it’s a “flex” pick. So, there’s a lot of weirdness. I don’t think it really matters which bowl is which, but if they have a chance to take an 8-4 team from a power conference, they will do that.

Why WVU Won’t Go Here: Because we were already picked for another bowl, basically.

Overall Likelihood: 45-55%.

Summary: If we’re still on the board, this will be the destination. Which bowl and matchup are the only real variables, but I would think they’d jump at the chance to have us vs. Syracuse.

So there you have it. For my money, I think the Texas Bowl is probably our best and most realistic option for a lot of reasons. The Liberty Bowl may sound appealing because it’s a drivable game, but flights to Houston are cheap, it’s going to be against a brand-name opponent versus a very good AAC team that if you beat you get nothing out of and if you lose, well, lol.

The Mountaineers will find out their bowl fate on Sunday. Matchups for all 41 bowl games will be announced throughout the day.