The 82nd annual Hyundai Sun Bowl game will feature a pair of 8-4 teams from opposite coasts. The Hurricanes (ACC) hail from sunny Miami, Florida; while the Cougars (PAC-12) travel from the Pacific Northwest state of Washington.
Aside from their identical win-loss record, both programs are making their second-ever appearance in the bowl game, but this will be the first time they play each other.
The Cougars defeated Purdue 33-27 in 2001, while the Hurricanes fell to Notre Dame 33-17 in front of a sold-out crowd in 2010. Miami is looking for its first bowl win since 2006, while Washington State hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2003 Rose Bowl.
Here’s a look at both squads and how they made it to El Paso.
The Hurricanes or as fans call them, The U, is a program in search of the route to return to their elite status among the college football ranks. Miami, and their fans, look to add to their five National Championships, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2001. Miami produced 26 NFL first round picks from 2000-2008, success they’re looking to replicate with new Head Coach Mark Richt.
This year’s team is in transition, much like their last visit to the Sun Bowl, and are welcoming a new head coach. The Al Golden era ended after worst loss in program history to Clemson, 58-0 on October 24. That loss dropped them to 4-3, after beginning the season with three straight victories. Interim Head Coach Larry Scott, held down the fort for the Canes’ new head man Richt, going 4-1 to end the regular season.
It was the game that followed their loss to Clemson that helped spark their 4-1 finish, as Miami was down 27-24 to Duke with six seconds left in the game; the ‘Canes would need eight laterals on the game’s final kickoff to win the game 30-27 in thrilling fashion.
The Hurricanes offense is led by Quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 3,019 yards, 15 touchdowns against four interceptions. Behind him are running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton who combined for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The defense that has allowed 28-points per game and more rushing yards than passing yards on a per game average, will have its hands full with Washington State’s high-octane offense.
The Washington State Cougars are led by Mike Leach, formerly the head coach at Texas Tech, who – along side Stanford’s David Shaw – were awarded the 2015 PAC-12 Co-Coach of the Year. Leach is in his fourth year with the program, improving the team from a 3-9 season in 2014.
Leach has established an offense that’s reminiscent of what he had at Tech – averaging 32-points per game – and has produced yet another 4,000-yard passer in Luke Falk who ranks fifth in the nation in passing yards adding 36 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions.
Falk missed the Cougars’ last game of the season against Washington after suffering a head injury against Colorado on Nov. 21. Falk will return to the starting lineup against Miami.
The Cougars also have a pair of wide receivers with double-digit touchdown catches: Gabe Marks who has over 1,100 receiving yards and Dom Williams who’s three yards shy of 1,000 yards.
Their defense, like Miami’s, is allowing 28-points per game; a troubling stat as it is the same point total the Hurricane’s offense averages.
The Cougars have not had consecutive losses all year, after losing their season opener, they managed to win back-to-back games before suffering their second loss followed by a pair of three-game win streaks in between their final two losses.
Expect points to be scored here, with both teams giving up four touchdowns. While the Cougars’ fast-paced offensive attack will be on display, Miami has the talent at the skill positions to keep up with the Cougars.
I see the Canes outdueling the Cougars in a high-scoring affair that ends with The U on top 38-32; signaling a Sun-ny future as Miami enters the Richt Era.