MORGANTOWN — The Mountaineers have already packed their bags, but now they know where they’re actually going.
West Virginia accepted an invitation to participate in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, the program announced Sunday afternoon. The game will be played on Dec. 28 at Chase Field in Phoenix, with the start scheduled for 10:15 p.m. It will be broadcast on ESPN.
“What better place to be in the month of December than Phoenix, Arizona?” head coach Neal Brown said.
It’s WVU’s the second bowl appearance of the Neal Brown era and the 39th appearance in program history. The game marks the first time the Mountaineers (6-6, 4-5 Big 12) will play in the bowl under its current name, with the team most recently playing in the then-named Cactus Bowl in the 2015 season.
“We’re gonna take the group that’s prepared to play, that is motivated to play, and we’re gonna give our guys the very best opportunity to win,” Brown said.
West Virginia will face Minnesota, who finished third in the Big 10 West with an overall record of 8-4 and 6-3 in the conference. It will be the first time the two teams meet in history, despite both programs being around for more than 100 years.
The Golden Gophers will enter the bowl having won six of their last eight games. They possess the No. 4 defense in the Big 10, but do feature a middle of the pack offense as No. 8 of 14 teams.
Also to note, Pete Themel of Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday that Minnesota is set to hire WVU offensive analyst Kirk Ciarrocca as the team’s offensive coordinator. While neither program has officially confirmed the move, Brown said that the Mountaineers would work through the situation soon.
Sunday’s announcement is arguably a peak of West Virginia’s season as, for a large portion of the year, the idea of receiving a bowl bid was in doubt. After opening the season 2-1, a quick three-game skid left the Mountaineers in an uncomfortable — but fixable — situation.
“There’s zero margin for error,” senior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said Oct. 19, days after West Virginia’s 45-20 loss to Baylor. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m not going out like that. … I’m not going out like that, not (in) my senior year.”
The Mountaineers responded by winning their first two games coming out of the bye week, but quickly returned to their losing ways. Consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State brought the team to six losses, requiring WVU to win out in order to become bowl eligible.
West Virginia was able to do exactly that, limping to bowl eligibility after beating Texas on Nov. 20 and Kansas in the final week of the regular season.
Elsewhere in the Big 12, conference champion Baylor and runner-up Oklahoma State will both play in New Year’s Six bowls. Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl), Iowa State (Cheez-It Bowl), Kansas State (Texas Bowl) and Texas Tech (Liberty Bowl) will also play one more game. Texas, TCU and Kansas did not obtain the required six wins to be eligible.
Tickets for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl are available to the general public now through the WVU ticket office.