Miami-Washington St. Preview
On one sideline will be the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and on the other an interim coach that doesn't know where he might end up next season.
With star quarterback Luke Falk set to return, Mike Leach will try to guide Washington State to its first bowl victory in 12 years Saturday, while Larry Scott looks to leave a positive final impression at Miami in the Sun Bowl.
Leach earned conference coach of the year honors for the second time in his career (Big 12, 2008) after taking a Washington State team that went 3-9 in 2014 and leading it to the program's best finish since going 10-3 in 2003.
Behind a prolific passing attack, the Cougars (8-4) stayed within one game of first place in the Pac-12 North Division until a 45-10 loss at rival Washington in their finale.
Falk easily leads the nation with 387.8 passing yards per game and is tied for fourth with 36 touchdowns while throwing only eight interceptions. The sophomore missed the Apple Cup after he was taken off the field on a backboard with an apparent head injury during a 27-3 home win over Colorado on Nov. 21.
That came a week after he suffered a similar injury but stayed in against UCLA.
"It was really tough to watch (the loss to Washington) and not be able to play," Falk said. "It's a game you're looking forward to all year."
Falk, though, has returned to practice and will be back for Washington State's second bowl appearance since beating Texas 28-20 in the Holiday Bowl in December 2003. The Cougars lost 48-45 to Colorado State in the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.
Gabe Marks and Dom Williams are Falk's top targets in the passing game. Marks ranks fourth in the nation with 99 catches to go with 1,125 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Williams has 73 receptions for 997 yards and 11 scores.
The Cougars, however, hope Marks will benefit from time off after he sustained a leg injury in the fourth quarter of the blowout loss to the rival Huskies.
Washington State might want to give Gerard Wicks some touches against a Miami team that ranked 13th in the ACC against the run, allowing 210.5 yards per game. The Hurricanes surrendered a total of 394 passing yards while coming down with three interceptions over their final three games.
"They're a great football team at 8-4 and I think they're even better than they're record shows," Falk added. "It makes it real fun for us and hopefully for the seniors, we can get them to go out the right way. The Sun Bowl is a great bowl."
Playing in a bowl game for the third straight year, Miami is looking to avoid a sixth consecutive postseason loss since a 21-20 victory over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
Scott will try to direct the Hurricanes to their highest win total since 2003. It could be his last game after getting promoted from tight ends coach following the firing of Al Golden. Miami has won four of its last five under Scott, including a 29-24 victory at Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale Nov. 27.
Former Georgia coach Mark Richt, who played quarterback for the Hurricanes in the early 1980s, was hired as Miami's next coach Dec. 4.
"We know the nature of the business and how it works and how things happen," Scott said. "Every one of these guys are really good coaches. They're going to add substance to whatever situation they find themselves in here."
Miami should be in good hands in the first meeting between the schools with budding star Brad Kaaya under center. The sophomore has thrown for an ACC-best 274.5 yards per game and became the third in school history with over 3,000 in back-to-back seasons.
Stacy Coley has 44 receptions for a team-high 645 yards and three touchdowns, while Rashawn Scott has a team-best 47 catches for 620 yards and five scores.
Washington State ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 223.4 passing yards allowed per game, but sits near the bottom of the league by averaging 199.8 rushing yards.
Joe Yearby had a team-high 939 yards and six touchdowns on the ground for the Hurricanes, who ranked 13th in the ACC with 119.5 rushing yards per game.