The Location – Phoenix, Arizona
Plus: As West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen adroitly pointed out in the hurriedly-arranged bowl teleconference on Sunday evening, the weather and environment are outstanding. The team and fans in attendance should enjoy a good experience on all fronts – and that hasn't been a guarantee recently, as those who attended the Liberty, Pinstripe and Champs Sports Bowls will remember. There 's also tons to do in Phoenix, from golf to outdoor activities to cultural and historical sites. Even considering the outcome of the game, a trip to the area has always resulted in a good time.
Minus: It's a long way away – the furthest of the Big 12 bowls from WVU. The Mountaineers have no one to blame for that but themselves, however. Still, West Virginia will likely have little fan support (it only had 6,000 tickets allotted to it for the game, and it would be a surprise it it approached that figure), and it's a costly flight for those out of the area. The presence of Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1 caused an immediate run on flights from Columbus and Pittsburgh, causing rates for the quickly shrinking number of seats to rise. Travel packages offered by WVU do seem reasonable, given the date and demand for air travel.
The Date - January 2, 2015
Plus: The game is the last of four on this date, and doesn't compete-head-to-head with any other bowl games. It's in prime time in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, and offers a decent cap on the day's bowl activity. For those traveling, the weekend positioning, coupled with the New Year's Day holiday, offers the chance to make a trip without burning too much vacation time.
Minus: Does the country at large care about the four games on this day, coming as they do after the national semifinals and the classic New Year's Day contests? For West Virginia viewers, it's a terrible slot, as kickoff won't occur until 10:15 Eastern. Only the fact that it's on Saturday night, and after New Year's, offers any consolation for WVU fans who will have to push well past midnight to see the conclusion. Watch the Mountaineer basketball game, take a nap, then get up for the evening finale.
The Opponent - Arizona State
Plus: There are some fun ties in this game, including former WVU coaches now at Arizona State (head man Todd Graham and defensive coordinator Steve Patterson). Additionally, it's always fun to beat a former Pitt head coach.
Minus: Perhaps the biggest negative of all for the game – Arizona State is the home team. Despite Graham's dissimulating protestations that it's not REALLY ASU's home field, it's just 10.2 miles away from campus. About the only adjustments it will have to make is the route the buses take from the team hotel to Chase Field. This is a huge advantage for the Sun Devils, and one that is going to have an effect on the outcome.
The Venue - Chase Field
Plus: It's a stretch, but the layout of the field is better than most other baseball venues that have a football field shoehorned into them. It's also a relatively modern park ( just 17 years old) and the game is run by the Fiesta Bowl committee, which knows how to operate bowl events. Also, were it not for construction at Sun Devil Stadium, this game would have been played on ASU's true home turf. That's minimal, but it's something.
Minus: Despite those positives, it's not a football venue. Sightlines and amenities are constructed for baseball, not football. There could also be concerns with lighting, which is set up for the diamond, not the gridiron.
Plus: The Fiesta Bowl committee, as mentioned above, knows what it is doing. It will drum up what interest it can. That's thin, but it's about all that this angle has going for it. Maybe a few writers will stick around from the Fiesta Bowl for -- something.
Minus: The game will be nearly swallowed up by the Ohio State – Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl match-up the evening before. Locally, it figures that the Cactus will be a blip on the radar. For the teams, that's probably not a big thing, but in terms of program exposure it hurts. There will probably be a couple of articles on the difference between this game and WVU's last trip to the Phoenix area, which resulted in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, but it's hard to imagine more than that. When we were there covering that game, it's hard to recall any details of the participants in the 2007 version of the bowl. Heck, we had to look up the fact that Oklahoma State defeated Indiana.
This bowl isn't the disaster that some are painting it to be – especially those that have some other axe to grind or agenda to pursue. It's about in the best weather location in the country for January, it's operated by a professional staff that knows what it's about, and it is a nice trip for the players. However, the fact that it isn't a big enough bowl to draw many Mountaineer fans on a lengthy trip across the country, coupled by the overshadowing of the big brother Fiesta, makes it difficult for many fans to get enthusiastic for. The collapse in the regualr season finale certainly dampened enthusiasm too. In no way will The Cactus Bowl be the operational disaster that the Pinstripe or CarQuest Bowls were, but it will probably take a big Mountaineer win to elevate it above other similar tier bowls of the past.