Predicting West Virginia’s Bowl Fate
After the Mountaineers finished the season beating Texas and Kansas, West Virginia clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight season finishing 6-6. The Mountaineers’ destination is far from fixed. Its finish (sixth) in the Big 12 pecking order stands final. That said, bowl selection priority remains imprecise. Further, if a few things happen in the conference championship games next week, Oklahoma State could clinch a playoff berth. Whether that happens will determine, as much as anything, which bowl game the Mountaineers play in. As a result, we need to keep those things in mind when predicting West Virginia’s bowl fate.
The “Rules” of the Game
After the conference championship games next weekend, the CFP selection committee will issue its final playoff rankings. As fans know, the top four teams receive berths in the two semi-final games. If a Big 12 team finishes in the top four, then the Big 12 runner-up receives a slot in its contracted CFP Bowl (the Sugar Bowl).
Then, the Big 12 places teams in its bowl tie-in games usually in the teams’ order in the final conference standings. This season, the Big 12 bowl selection order follows this priority: Sugar Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Cheez-It Bowl, Texas Bowl, Liberty Bowl, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, and, if needed, either the Armed Forces Bowl or the First Responders Bowl.
The Big 12 boasts seven bowl-eligible teams this year. Oklahoma State and Baylor currently represent the seventh- and eighth-ranked teams in the current playoff rankings.
Setting Out the Possible Destinations
West Virginia finished the season ranked sixth in the Big 12. That would put the Mountaineers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl if the Big 12 places no team in the playoff. If the Big 12 does, however, that would result in the Mountaineers playing in the Liberty Bowl. Those are the two possible destinations.
Mapping out which is more likely, however, is a tougher task. If things go as expected next weekend, then Oklahoma State would likely clinch the fourth playoff spot. That requires a Georgia win over Alabama and an Oklahoma State win over Baylor. Those two things would likely leave a top four of Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State (though we still cannot overlook Notre Dame as a possible number four).
If Alabama beats Georgia, however, chaos could ensue, even with an Oklahoma State win. That would mean Michigan, Alabama, Cincinnati, and Georgia comprise the top four (assuming, of course, Michigan beats Iowa and Cincinnati beats Houston).
It seems more likely that Oklahoma State captures the final playoff spot than not, so West Virginia’s likely destination is the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. It has been, however, an unpredictably crazy season. As a result, we simply cannot rule out the Guaranteed Rate Bowl as a likely landing spot.
Predicting West Virginia’s Bowl Opponent
Now, here’s the fun part. The other conference tie-in to these two possible bowl destinations are the Big Ten (for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl) and the SEC (for the Liberty Bowl).
The opponents here also depend on the results of the various conference championship games. If Michigan lost, for example, to Iowa, the Big Ten could well be on the outside looking in for the playoff. That said, the most likely outcome leaves the Guaranteed Rate Bowl opponent as either Maryland or Penn State.
Maryland would offer intrigue as it would mean the Mountaineers would bookend its season with a traditional rival. It would offer the team the chance to overcome its opening-season loss. Penn State, on the other hand, would offer a preview for the 2023 renewal of this rivalry.
For the Liberty Bowl, the opponent is slightly less predictable, as the SEC has slightly more control of its team’s respective destinations. That said, the most likely SEC representatives in the Liberty Bowl are Missouri or Auburn.
A matchup against Auburn would represent just the third meeting between the Tigers and Mountaineers. Or a matchup against the other Tigers from Missouri would offer West Virginia the chance to even the score against Missouri (who currently has a 4-3 advantage in the all-time series). Missouri, of course, opened the Neal Brown era in sore fashion with a 38-7 demolition of the Mountaineers in 2019.
Predicting West Virginia’s Bowl Fate
We think the most likely outcomes in order are as follows: WVU vs. Missouri in the Liberty Bowl, WVU vs. Maryland in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, WVU vs. Auburn in the Liberty Bowl, and WVU vs. Penn State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.