Stingy Mountaineers face potent Wolfpack

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A four-game winning streak to end the season brought the West Virginia football team a share of the Big East title and an invitation to play in the Champs Sports Bowl against North Carolina State.

The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla., at the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium and televised by ESPN.

The unranked Wolfpack finished in a tie for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division this season, going 5-3 in conference games (8-4 overall) while the No. 22 Mountaineers (9-3) finished atop the Big East at 5-2 with Connecticut and Pitt.

The Champs Sports Bowl's contract has a provision that it could have selected a seven-win Notre Dame team, an independent, instead of a Big East representative once in four years. The bowl chose not to invoke that option this season and the 7-5 Irish are headed to the Sun Bowl against Miami (7-5).

"Both N.C. State and West Virginia have enjoyed very successful seasons and we are already seeing a lot of excitement for this game in Orlando," selection committee chairman Chuck Beverly said. "It's going to be fun watching one of the nation's best offenses face one of the best defenses."

West Virginia ranks in the top-10 nationally in five team categories, including scoring defense (second, 12.8 ppg) and total defense (third, 251.3 yards per game).

As for North Carolina State, the Wolfpack posted their most wins since 2003. The squad features one of the nation's top passing offenses at 281.7 yards per game led by junior quarterback Russell Wilson, who will enter the game 11th nationally and first in the ACC, averaging 306.8 yards of total offense per game.

West Virginia and North Carolina State had two common opponents in the 2010 regular season, with both teams defeating Cincinnati, while the Mountaineers beat Maryland in Week 3 but the Wolfpack lost to the Terrapins in its regular-season finale.

North Carolina State started the season 4-0, but lost four of their last eight.

The two programs have met nine times in their histories, but none have been recent. The last meeting came in 1979 when a Frank Cignetti-coached West Virginia team was defeated in Morgantown by North Carolina State, 38-14. Two times West Virginia and the Wolfpack faced each other in bowls -- in the 1972 and '75 Peach Bowls -- and split the two meetings.

The Champs Sports Bowl has had its current sponsor since 2004, but there have been several incarnations of the same bowl.. The event dates to 1990, was formerly held in Miami, and has been called the Mazda Tangerine Bowl, the Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl, the MicroPC.com Bowl, the MicronPC Bowl, the Carquest Bowl and the Blockbuster Bowl.

The Champs bowl pays out $2.13 million per team. Big East football schools share revenue evenly.

The Mountaineers twice played in the Carquest Bowl in Miami under coach Don Nehlen, losing in 1997 to Georgia Tech and at the end of the 1994 season to South Carolina.


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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