Coaching, Player Match-ups A Plus For Fiesta

West Virginia will fly into Phoenix Dec. 26 to begin preparations for the Fiesta Bowl versus No. 4 Oklahoma on Jan. 2. With it, the No. 9 Mountaineers are bringing one of the most exciting offenses, offering arguably the premier BCS match-up of the season, according to bowl officials.

Besides the obvious of getting a premier coaching duel with OU's Bob Stoops and WVU's Rich Rodriguez, the bowl will showcase Patrick White and Darius Reynaud, among others, against an Oklahoma defense that has yielded little more than 18 points per game and held for foes to 14 points or less and six to no more than 17. Perhaps no other BCS contest has so obvious a battle, one of the main reasons for the choice.

"That dynamic offense they have, with an underrated defense against a team like Oklahoma with a fairly rigid defense, seeing the collision of those two go at each other should be a great time," said WVU team liaison Andrew Carey, who will serve as the official organizer for the Mountaineers. "No question, the battle of wits between coaches and the offenses against the defense. Both teams are known for their offense with West Virginia and defense with Oklahoma, but on their respective other sides, it is a little underrated. I think people are eager to prove their side of the ball is just as good as the other side on both teams."

The rankings would seem to support the Fiesta's thought process. Oklahoma is third in scoring offense (43.3 ppg) and ninth in scoring defense (18.15 ppg) and 18th in total defense (324.0 ypg). The Sooners rank in the top 30 in virtually every other category, including being the top return team in the nation in terms of yardage per run back, a weakness of West Virginia this season. The Mountaineers are fourth in rushing offense (292.92 ypg), 19th in total offense (450.50 ypg) and 11th in scoring offense at nearly 40 points per game. WVU has allowed just 291.92 yards per game on average to rank fourth in the nation and it is seventh in scoring defense at 17.25 points. No foe has scored more than 24 points on the Mountaineers all season, making it by far the most consistent phase of the team.

Another draw was the West Virginia fan base. The Mountaineers took 30,000-plus to the national championship game on Jan. 2, 1989, and that Fiesta Bowl is still among the most-watched bowl games of all time. Carey acknowledged that when it came time for the Fiesta to select between WVU and Hawaii, the Mountaineers were "a very easy choice with West Virginia's following and with the staffs and the speed and players. It could not have worked out better for the Fiesta Bowl."

"In 1989, they traveled well, and we are in great hopes that they will migrate to Arizona," Fiesta Bowl Chairman of the Board Dick Stemple said of West Virginia. "People still talk about that."

"With us ad West Virginia, we have heard what everyone else has: the rabid fan base," Carey said. "Probably the whole state will be following them out there. It'll be great with Mountaineer Nation coming out west."

Stemple, a native of Webster Springs, W.Va. said that WVU's weaker television market did not have any bearing on the game. He noted that Fox, this year's Fiesta Bowl televisor, puts no pressure on the bowls to select teams in major media outlets.

"Of course, Fox and ABC, I would guess if they could get Rutgers on TV, they'd have the whole east coast," Stemple said. "The south coast might be considered better than Kansas. That doesn't matter to us. They know all the figures about what TVs are where, east and west of the Mississippi. They get concerned about that, but they would never ever suggest who are in our games. Not only are they ethical, but there may be legalities in there. We don't ask them what they prefer."

The game is a sellout. There are many activities being planned for fans, most of which are starting on Dec. 28 and going through Jan. 2. West Virginia, being the lower-ranked team, will wear white jerseys and use the west bench. Oklahoma will wear red jerseys and use the east bench. It will be the fourth meeting between the teams. OU leads 2-1, with all previous contests being held in Norman, Okla. It will be the Sooners' fourth trip to the Fiesta Bowl. OU is 1-2, the lone win coming over Wyoming in 1976.

Stoops will be making his second appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. He has previously appeared in 21 bowl games as a player, assistant coach or head coach, including nine BCS bowls. He has led the Sooners to nine consecutive bowl games, including six BCS bowl appearances, three BCS national championship games and five Big 12 Conference titles. Rodriguez will be making his first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. He has previously appeared in 12 bowl games as a player, assistant coach or head coach, including four consecutive New Year's Day bowl appearances. He has led the Mountaineers to six consecutive bowl games, back-to-back Top 10 finishes and seven-straight seasons with eight or more wins, including two straight 11-win seasons.

The teams will receive between $14 million and $17 million each from the Bowl Championship Series. FOX will televise, with Matt Vasgersian, Terry Donahue and Pat Haden calling the action from the booth, with Laura Okmin serving as the sideline reporter. ESPN Radio will broadcast the Fiesta Bowl nationally with Sean McDonough and Bob Davie calling the action from the booth and Stacey Dales on the sidelines. The broadcast can be heard around Phoenix on Sports 620 KTAR.


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