For Washington State football fans, the prospect of playing Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl might paradoxically evoke some shivery memories.
Realistically, though, they have little reason to expect another snowstorm.
For the second time in six years, the Cougars accepted an invitation Sunday from the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where they'll face the same team they vanquished in decidedly unsunny conditions in 2015.
The Cougs and the Hurricanes will clash at 9 a.m. Pacific on Dec. 31 at Sun Bowl Stadium on the University of Texas at El Paso campus.
In their matchup on Dec. 26, 2015, snow fell intermittently in the first half but grew blindingly thick after intermission as WSU relied predominantly on its defense to defeat the Hurricanes 20-14.
It wasn't typical weather for El Paso, which reports 2.6 inches of annual snowfall at its airport. But there also was a snowstorm before the 1974 game between Mississippi State and North Carolina, followed by rising temperatures that created thick fog.
“If it snows, it's going to be good with us at Washington State,” newly hired WSU coach Jake Dickert said in a Sun Bowl conference call. “We're prepared for that.
“I've heard nothing but great things from our fan base and our former players about their experience when they were down there in 2015."
The Cougars are 2-0 in the Sun Bowl, having defeated Purdue 34-24 in the 2001 edition.
This time, the major hardship for Cougar fans might be airfare. With travel costs rising quickly in recent weeks, flights to El Paso in late December appeared Sunday to be hundreds of dollars higher than normal.
“The Sun Bowl has a great tradition of hospitality and how they care for our student-athletes and our team, and how much of a community-driven event it is,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun said in a news conference. “We just have to be realistic about what flight costs are. We saw those — we looked those up too. There's nothing we can do to control that. But we also have people in the southwest part of this country that hopefully are motivated to go support the Cougs in El Paso.”
The Cougars posted a 7-5 overall record in the regular season and, more relevant to bowl bids, went 6-3 in Pac-12 play, tied for third-best with UCLA and Arizona State.
Heading into the national bowl selection process, there was some uncertainty about where those three teams would end up, but the Holiday Bowl chose UCLA and the Las Vegas Bowl selected ASU. Per conference policy, that left the Sun Bowl compelled to pick the Cougars.
Sun Bowl officials played up the momentum that the two teams have generated. The Cougars have won six of their past eight games, and Miami has taken five of its past six.
Each has faced turmoil as well. The Cougs fired coach Nick Rolovich on Oct. 18 and designated Dickert to lead the program on an interim basis for the final five games. The Hurricanes, who are 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, reportedly are trying to lure away Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, but meanwhile they continue to employ third-year coach Manny Diaz.
The national coaching carousel is especially lively at the moment, but Chun said he expects the entire WSU coaching staff that finished the season to be available for the bowl game. He also said he hadn't heard of any players planning to opt out of the bowl.
Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.