Miami Hurricanes to play West Virginia Mountaineers in 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl

Miami-West Virginia is the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup. (Getty Images photo, Post illustration)

Miami-West Virginia is the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup. (Getty Images photo, Post illustration)

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The Hurricanes are heading back to Orlando — and hoping for better results than last time.

Miami (8-4, 5-3 ACC) was chosen for the Russell Athletic Bowl.

It will square off against a former Big East rival, West Virginia (10-2, 7-2 Big 12).

The game is 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28. It will be televised on ESPN.

The Russell Athletic Bowl, which picks before the rest of the ACC’s “Tier I” games, was the highest possible bowl the Hurricanes could have attained. It was something of a reward for a four-game winning streak, which came after a four-game October losing streak.

“It’s a credit to the job Mark [Richt] and his staff have done, and the guys for going out and executing the last four weeks,” UM Athletics Director Blake James said Sunday. “We’ve played some good teams. Pittsburgh beat Clemson and Penn State, and for us to play at the level we did against them shows the type of team we have.

“For our guys to handle the situation they way they did in November, people took notice of that.”

He called West Virginia a “great team that has had a great year, an exciting matchup for us. … We’ll be excited to be there. I know our guys will be excited.”

The Mountaineers were ranked No. 14 in the latest Associated Press poll and No. 16 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. UM earned votes in the AP and coaches’ polls, and was left out of the playoff top 25.

Miami will play in Orlando for the first time since a dismal defeat in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl. After losing to Louisville 36-9, Miami finished 9-4.

Six current Hurricanes played in that game, including wide receiver Stacy Coley and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who started. Another Hurricane who saw action that night: then-sophomore cornerback Antonio Crawford, who transferred to West Virginia in 2015 and has played in eight games for the Mountaineers this season.

WVU, which finished tied for second in the Big 12, won 10 games for the ninth time in its 125-year history. Its only losses were to conference leader Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

It has no common opponents with Miami, but knows South Florida well. Coach Dana Holgorsen has 14 Florida natives on his roster. In his first season in Morgantown — 2011 — he took a team led by Miramar High alum Geno Smith to the Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers set an FBS record for points in a bowl game by beating Clemson 70-33.

UM and WVU have faced off 19 times, most of those under the Big East banner. UM was 11-2 in those contests, and 16-3 overall against the ‘Eers.

One of the losses came in 1993, when Miami helped WVU set a home attendance record. The ninth-ranked Mountaineers upset the fourth-ranked Hurricanes in front of 70,222.

The next time both teams were ranked, 1996, No. 25 Miami stunned No. 12 WVU in Morgantown when Tremain Mack blocked a punt with 29 seconds left, and Nate Brooks returned it for a touchdown and a 10-7 win. That game became known as “The Miracle on the Mountain.”

Unranked Miami pulled off another road upset in 1998, beating No. 13 West Virginia thanks to 162 rushing yards and three touchdowns by Edgerrin James, whose bullish running caused WVU coach Don Nehlen to remark afterward, “It would behoove us to tackle.” That was Miami’s first win over a ranked opponent in two years.

The last time Miami played West Virginia was 2003, a year before it left for the ACC. The second-ranked Hurricanes held on for a 22-20 win thanks to a Jon Peattie field goal, which came after a fingertip catch by Kellen Winslow on fourth-and-13 saved the drive with 1:03 left.

West Virginia remained in the Big East until 2011, after which season it bolted for the Big 12. After going 7-6, 4-8 and 7-6 in their first three Big 12 seasons, the Mountaineers went 8-5 last year and beat Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl.

That’s a feeling Miami hasn’t had — ending the year with a ‘W’ — in a decade.

UM’s last bowl victory was in 21-20 over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Its last three bowl games: a 20-14 loss to Washington State in the 2015 Sun Bowl, a 24-21 loss to South Carolina in the 2014 Independence Bowl, and of course, the blowout in Orlando in 2013.

“I think it’s very important,” Richt said of breaking the streak. “I think our guys know that. Every guy that’s in the room, whether he’s been there one year or three or four years, they haven’t had the victory at the end of the year.

“I know they’re all hungry for it. I know I am too. Obviously, West Virginia will be also.”

To win, Miami will have to get past arguably the best defense in the offense-happy Big 12. The Mountaineers are tied for 35th nationally in points allowed and rank one spot ahead of Miami in opponent passer rating (120.00 32nd). They are 63rd in yards per carry allowed.

Junior running back Justin Crawford ranks third in the Big 12 in rushing yards (1,168, with four touchdowns) and is averaging 7.44 yards per carry. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard (3,194 yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) is fourth in the conference in passer raing (149.24). He threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in WVU’s 24-21 win over Baylor in its regular-season finale. However, he completed 10-of-26 passes for a season-low 111 yards.

The other Hurricanes who made an appearance in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl — and will be looking for comeuppance for that blowout loss — were running back Gus Edwards, offensive lineman Alex Gall, receiver Malcolm Lewis and safety Jamal Carter.

Two current starters, star cornerback Corn Elder and right guard Danny Isidora, were injured and did not play. Injured right tackle Sunny Ododwu and tight end-turned-defensive end Stan Dobard watched from the sideline.

 

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