The Russell Athletic Bowl, one of three to be played in Orlando, features two well-known football programs. The five-time national champion Miami Hurricanes of the ACC, will face the West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12, ranked 14th in the number of all-time victories in major college football.
The 2016 Hurricanes can be entertaining, but do not resemble the speedy – and brash – teams that won five titles between 1983 and 2001. Miami fans will swear to this day that a sixth title was stolen from them by a highly controversial call against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
Since that huge disappointment, the Hurricanes have hovered between an average or mediocre program. Miami has lost six consecutive bowl games, none of which included a New Year’s Six game.
Their last post season victory came in something called the MPC Computers Bowl in 2006, the last season under former coach Larry Coker. Two of those losses came in Orlando in the Russell Athletic Bowl and under the game’s former name, the Champs Sports Bowl.
This year’s team, under first-year coach Mark Richt, may have led the faithful to believe the turnaround was ahead of schedule. The unrealistic optimism was soon replaced by disappointment.
After winning their first four games, the Hurricanes lost the next four. The first loss was a 20-19 heartbreaker to Florida State on October 9.
The fourth loss was inexplicable. Miami figured out a way to somehow lose to a very bad Notre Dame team. Perhaps that was the wakeup call they needed because the Hurricanes picked up the pieces and won their final four games to finish 8-4.
West Virginia enters the game with a record of 10-2. Their only losses came against conference foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and all of the offense those two teams bring.
Four of their victories were by four points or less.
West Virginia is ranked 16th in the College Football Playoff rankings. Oklahoma is the only two on the schedule ranked in the Top 25.
Coach Dana Holgorsen is in his sixth season at WVU and holds a record of 46-30.
The Mountaineers have not regularly qualified for bowls, but they make the most of it when they do. Their last bowl appearance was the memorable 2011 Orange Bowl when they hammered Clemson, 70-33. They are currently on a four-bowl winning streak, three of which were New Year’s Six (then known as BCS) bowls.
Will the Hurricanes’ fans make the trip up the Ronald Reagan Florida Turnpike to Orlando? While Miami rooters can at times slip into apathy, the way the season ended may provide the extra incentive to travel with their team
It is a safe bet plenty will want to escape the winter of Morgantown, West Va. to enjoy Orlando in late December. Mountaineer fans are passionate about their football team.
Miami is a three-point favorite as of Thursday. The game is the only meeting of the bowl season between teams from the ACC and Big 12.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. December 28 at Camping World Stadium.