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Bowl History Unkind to WVU Football Program

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As WVU Football gears up for its 39th bowl game, it’s also seeking a 17th win.

The Mountaineers have been in and out of bowl contention since the program’s first appearance, the 1922 San Diego East-West Christmas Classic. WVU took the win over Gonzaga 21-13, the cherry on top of an undefeated season. It would take more than a decade for the team’s next bowl eligibility, but come 1938, first year head coach Marshall Glenn and the Mountaineers saw the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Sun Bowl for the two eventual conference foes’ first meeting: a 7-6 WVU victory. It would take another decade after that to see the Mountaineers in the post-season. The 1948 season afforded West Virginia a third bowl win, this time, a 21-12 Sun Bowl victory over the now-defunct Texas Mine Miners, a school that would eventually assimilate into the University of Texas at El Paso.

In 1954, the Mountaineers, guided by head coach Art Lewis, were handed the first bowl loss in the Sugar Bowl. No. 8 Georgia Tech put up 42 points on WVU, who would only muster up 19. Lewis’ 8-1 team concluded the season 8-2 with a Southern Conference title (the program’s first conference championship win), but wouldn’t see bowl contention again under the same administration.

It was nearly exactly a decade between the Sugar Bowl loss and the Mountaineers’ next hurdle: the 1964 Liberty Bowl. Head coach Gene Corum and WVU Football met the Utah Utes in Atlantic City to the tune of a 32-6 loss. West Virginia parted with Corum’s tutelage shortly after.

The 1969 season began a string of Peach Bowl appearances that spanned the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, as well as a trio of head coaches. Head coach Jim Carlan kicked off the Peach Bowl series with a 14-3 victory over South Carolina. When Bobby Bowden stepped in, his teams went to the Peach Bowl in two of his six seasons at the helm, facing the NC State Wolfpack both times. 1972 became WVU’s third bowl game loss, 49-13, but the 1975 roster redeemed itself with a 13-10 win in Atlanta. When Don Nehlen picked up the coaching reins in 1980, his Mountaineer teams revisited the Peach Bowl once more in 1981, when the team defeated the Florida Gators 26-6.

That win began the longest string of bowl game appearances by a single Mountaineer football coach in the program’s history. The Nehlen era was synonymous with bowl appearances, but not particularly bowl wins. Following the 1981 Peach Bowl win, Nehlen-led teams went to bowl games in the ’82, ’83, ’84, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’93, ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, and 2000 seasons; his teams went to three Gator Bowls, two Carquest Bowls, a Hall of Fame Classic, a Bluebonnet, a Sun, a Sugar, a Music City, an Insight.com, and the infamous 1989 Fiesta Bowl during his tenure, while compiling a 4-9 bowl record. Between 1987 and 1998, despite making nearly annual bowl berths, the Mountaineers lost all eight-straight bowl games. This period of tumultuous bowl games finally gave way in 2000, when the Music City Bowl hosted the Mountaineers and the Ole Miss Rebels. Nehlen was in his last season with the team, and capped his time in Morgantown off with a 49-38 win in Nashville.

When Rich Rodriguez took over the head coaching job in 2001, the Mountaineers were once more on a string of bowl appearances.

Between 2001 and 2007, Rodriguez-led teams made post-season berths in ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’06. He seemed to pick up right where Nehlen had left off, as the Mountaineers made three additional Gator Bowls (2004, 2005, 2007) and a Sugar Bowl (2006), as well as a Continental Tire Bowl (2002). 2002 brought about a three-year skid of bowl games, and Mountaineer fans were in for a rocky post-season presence in the early 2000’s. The Continental Tire Bowl dealt the Mountaineers a 48-22 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers. It was followed by back-to-back Gator Bowl losses to then-No. 23 Maryland 41-7 and No. 17 Florida State 30-18.

2005 welcomed a four-season win streak to West Virginia Football’s bowl potential. A 38-35 Sugar Bowl win over a then-No. 8 Georgia team set the Big East Champion Mountaineers, armed with a redshirt freshman Pat White, up to finish the season 11-1 ranked No. 5 in the nation. The 2006 season was more of the same. An 11-2 season was capped with another 38-35 victory, this time in the Gator Bowl against Georgia Tech. White was awarded the game’s MVP award for his trio of touchdowns (2 PASS/ 1 RUSH) and 276 yards combined.

White would also go on to win a second-straight bowl game MVP when the Mountaineers, equipped with rookie head coach Bill Stewart, and then-No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners squared off in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. White and the Big East Co-Champions took the win from the future conference foes in 48-28 fashion. Stewart’s team came back with a passion in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl, squeaking out a 31-30 win over UNC; White also nabbed the MVP in that game as well, notching 332 yards and three passing touchdowns during his final game in a Mountaineer jersey.

The year 2010 hosted two different Mountaineer teams to bowl berths, but with little success. The 2009 Mountaineers went to the program’s seventh Gator Bowl in January and lost 33-21 to the Seminoles, while the 2010 Mountaineers saw the Wolfpack again in the Champs Sports Bowl at the end of December to the tune of a 23-7 loss.

When Dana Holgorsen took over the head coach position in 2011, he immediately took his team, armed with Geno Smith, to the 2012 Orange Bowl. As die-hard Mountaineer fans know, that game dealt the then-No. 14 Clemson Tigers a 70-33 defeat. Smith took home the MVP after putting up 407 yards and six passing touchdowns, as well as 26 yards and a rushing touchdown to his name. That game ushered in a sense of bowl regularity for the Mountaineers again, as Holgorsen proceeded to send West Virginia bowling in six of his next seven seasons. The 2012-14 Holgorsen years produced two bowl berths, and two subsequent bowl losses (38-14 Pinstripe Bowl to Syracuse and 45-37 Liberty Bowl to Texas A&M) before the tides began to momentarily turn. The 2015 season welcomed WVU and Arizona State to Chase Field for the Cactus Bowl. Quarterback Skyler Howard took home the MVP with his 532 yards passing for five touchdowns during the 43-42 win. The glory was short-lived though.

The next three seasons went by in a blur of bowl appearances and bowl losses. 2016’s Russell Athletic Bowl pitted the Mountaineers and Miami Hurricanes at Camping World Stadium; the Hurricanes were victorious 31-14. When 2017 rolled around, WVU met the Utah Utes at the Heart of Dallas Bowl and lost in a similar fashion, 30-14. Holgorsen’s final bowl appearance with the Mountaineers flew the team back to Camping World Stadium for a match-up with then-No. 17 Syracuse. The Orange were victorious once again 34-18, a similar result to the two’s meeting at the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl.

When the Neal Brown era began, it was rough sailing at first. The 5-7 Mountaineers missed bowl contention for the first time since 2013. Brown’s staff rebounded in the midst of a COVID-riddled 2020 with a 24-21 win over Army in last season’s Liberty Bowl. WVU’s Jarret Doege threw for 159 yards and a touchdown in the victory, while Austin Kendall added 121 yards and a touchdown duo.

This season, Doege is back and ready to, potentially, close out his chapter as a Mountaineer. On Dec. 28, WVU and Minnesota will clash for the first time ever, christening Chase Field in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Of note, WVU Football is 1-4 in bowl games played on Dec. 28 and on the hunt for its 17th bowl game win.

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