West Virginia and N.C. State face-off in the Champs Sports Bowl, or what could be called "The Almost Bowl".
West Virginia almost won the Big East title and the automatic BCS bowl bid that comes with it. A win over either Syracuse or UConn would have sealed the deal, but the Mountaineers lost to both of those teams on consecutive October weekends.
N.C. State almost won the ACC Atlantic division title, but the Wolfpack lost at Maryland in their final regular season game to let Florida State advance through the back door.
West Virginia would have the upper hand in the momentum department, thanks to a season-ending four-game winning streak, if it weren't for the lame duck status the school has imposed on its head coach. Bill Stewart has been told he has one more year in charge before the reins are handed over to incoming offensive coordinator and newly-anointed head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State.
The move comes after a season in which West Virginia performed exactly as predicted by the computer (Congrove Computer Rankings). The Mountaineers finished 9-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big East, and essentially in second-place since UConn earned the conference's automatic BCS bid via its head-to-head win over the 'Eers.
Meanwhile, N.C. State heads to Orlando after winning just four of its last eight games following a 4-0 start. The Wolfpack were considerable over-performers as they put together an 8-4 season (5-3, ACC) when they were projected to finish 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the conference.
Nearly 70% of N.C. State's offense comes courtesy of Russell Wilson's arm and the Wolfpack rank 19th nationally in the passing game. However, West Virginia has the nation's 11th-ranked pass defense, 3rd-ranked total defense and 2nd-ranked scoring defense at 12.8 points per game. Junior defensive end Bruce Irvin has registered a team-leading 12 sacks and junior lineman Julian Miller has 8.
N.C. State posted its most wins since 2002 when Philip Rivers led the school to an 11-3 campaign. This season, Wilson ranks 15th nationally in passing yards per game and he is the team's second-leading rusher with 381 yards and second-leading scorer with 9 touchdowns.
These teams have met nine previous times with West Virginia holding a 5-4 advantage. This will be their first meeting in 22 years, however, and N.C. State won three of the last four battles. The teams split a pair of Peach Bowl meetings in the 1970's.
The oddsmakers set the opening line at 4 points in favor of West Virginia. The computer gives the Mountaineers a 6.48-point edge.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPN on Tuesday, December 28th beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Note: Dana Holgorsen, recently announced as the head-coach-waiting for 2012 at West Virginia, was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010 when the Cowboys led the nation in total offense. In 2008 and 2009, he held the same position at Houston and the Cougars led the nation in '09 and finished 2nd in '08. From '05 to '07, he held the same position at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders were No. 2 in '07, No. 6 in '06 and No. 4 in '05. His passing offenses were No. 1 in '05, No. 3 in '06, No. 1 in '07, No. 2 in '08, No. 1 in '09 and No. 2 in '10.