Miami, Washington State take postseason skids into Sun Bowl
EL PASO, Texas (AP) Teams playing in the Sun Bowl in recent seasons often have brought long bowl droughts with them and left them at the border, and this year's game between Miami and Washington State will add to that trend.
Miami (8-4), despite its storied history, hasn't won a bowl game since 2006, going 0-5 since then. The streak includes a loss to Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
Washington State (8-4), which is in a bowl game for the second time in three years under coach Mike Leach, hasn't won in the postseason since 2003.
The skid will end for one of these teams Saturday.
''It comes as a surprise,'' Hurricanes defensive lineman Calvin Heurtelou said. ''The seniors are really trying to go out with something you can remember. I want to win bad, because there's no other feeling better than winning your last game.''
For Miami, the game also represents an opportunity for an upbeat finish to a season of turmoil.
Coach Al Golden was fired after a 58-0 loss to Clemson. Larry Scott is the interim head coach, but Miami already has hired former Georgia coach Mark Richt. And Richt has begun to hire assistant coaches, leaving questions about what will happen to members of the current staff after the game.
Still, Miami went 4-1 down the stretch to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division and qualify for a bowl.
''It says a lot about someone's character,'' defensive back Deon Bush said of Scott. ''He's done a great job. We're a close team, one of the closest bunches I've been around. I'm happy that, my senior year, we still fought to try to make this the best season possible.''
Washington State's road has been different. The Cougars weren't picked to do much after a 3-9 record last year but rallied behind seven returning starters on each side of the ball.
And former walk-on Luke Falk excelled at quarterback. He leads the nation's top-ranked passing offense (397 yards per game) with a nation-leading 4,266 yards and 36 TDs with eight interceptions.
''There's only a few teams in the country that play that way,'' Scott said of the Cougars. ''They're a unique challenge for us.''
Here are some things to know about the 82nd Sun Bowl:
IMPROVED D: Just as important for WSU was the improvement of its defense. Leach said it was one of the biggest reasons the Cougars finished third in the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Oregon and are playing in a bowl game.
''I thought they got better as the year went on, especially considering how many young guys we broke in,'' he said.
PASSING FANCIES: Washington State isn't the only team that throws. Brad Kaaya leads Miami's No. 27-ranked pass offense and has thrown for 3,019 yards and 15 TDs with just four interceptions. He has passed such notables as Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde on Miami's all-time list.
''They've got good speed and they're big up front,'' Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. ''(Kaaya) has done a real nice job directing their offense this year. He's as talented as anybody in our conference.''
WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY: One area in which Miami has excelled is turnovers. The Hurricanes are tied for No. 5 in the nation in turnover margin at plus-13. But they will be missing safety Jamal Carter, who was sent home for a violation of team rules.
CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Challenges are nothing new for Miami. Sophomore offensive lineman Nick Linder said the team has been hardened by them. ''Everyone's playing hard and playing for each other,'' he said. ''When your back's up against the wall, you can be submissive or you can come out fighting.''
NICK OF TIME: The Sun Bowl has been played in a snowstorm a few times through its long history. It looks as though this game will miss that, but barely. Showers are expected during the day, with the moisture turning to snow Saturday night. More snow is expected Sunday.