By Bill Nestor
After a brief hiatus, West Virginia University’s football team is going bowling once again! The good news is that because the Mountaineers had such a great season and received some postseason breaks, they were able to garner an upgrade to a bowl with a little extra zing. WVU agreed to do battle with North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
The game will be played on Dec 27 at 5:30 in Bank of America stadium in Charlotte. It’s the 40th bowl in school history and 19th in the last 22 seasons. It will be the fifth time the Mountaineers will have teed it up at this venue and they will be looking for their third victory.
Heading into “Selection Sunday,” none of the experts picked a trip to North Carolina for West Virginia, but loopholes led to opportunities that were just too good for the Mayo Bowl to pass up. The spot opened when the Southeastern Conference (SEC) could not fill all of its bowl tie-ins. Since there wer enot enough teams that were bowl eligible, the Mayo Bowl was able to look outside the SEC for a quality replacement. WVU head coach Neal Brown can thank Alabama, since the Crimson Tide qualified for the College Football Playoff.
This marriage made sense to both parties involved. Brown and his squad get to lock-up with another Power Five opponent in the Tar Heels. At the same time, fans from the Mountain State can make the easy drive to Charlotte to catch the tilt while the large fan base in the North Carolina area can catch the Mountaineers as well.
The Mayo Bowl has been several other bowls previously, the Belk, Continental Tire, and Meineke Car Care. Last year’s matchup between Maryland and North Carolina State drew a less than impressive 38,000. With these two teams squaring off, this contest is guaranteed to be a success. This bowl has only been sold out three times in history and all three have involved either West Virginia or North Carolina.
Both teams, unfortunately, will be playing without one of their superstars. West Virginia will be without the services of standout center Zach Frazier. The All-American center (6’3 311) was injured on the game-winning drive against Baylor. The Fairmont native hadn’t planned on ending his Mountaineer career this way, but it doesn’t take away from the accomplishments that filled Frazier’s time in Morgantown.
North Carolina will be without starting signal caller Drake Maye. Maye decided to take the bowl game off to avoid potential injury ahead of the NFL Draft. Maye completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,608 yards. He tossed 24 touchdown passes with nine interceptions and a 149.0 passer rating.
Both players look to have promising futures, as Frazier is listed as the second best center in the draft by several scouts and is predicted to be picked up in the third round. Maye is one of four quarterbacks thought to go in the first round and many feel that he could be the second thrower selected because of his pro potential.
Even with the loss of star power, both squads are still stacked and this should be an epic battle. West Virginia opens up as a 3.5 point favorite and the over/under is 56.5 points scored by both teams. That number shows the confidence that oddsmakers have in both teams’ abilities to score points, even without the above-mentioned players in uniform.
Brown would love to see one point more than the Tar Heels and get win number nine. That would be a nice ending to a great year!