WVU headed to Phoenix for Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs. Minnesota

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  • Neal Brown
    American football player and coach

Dec. 6—MORGANTOWN — The WVU football team is headed west for its bowl game with a spot in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against the Big Ten's Minnesota.

The game is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. start Dec. 28 on ESPN at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in Phoenix. It is the second time the Mountaineers have played in this bowl—the last was following the 2015 season, then known as the Cactus Bowl—a 43-42 win over Arizona State.

"I want to thank the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, and the entire Fiesta Bowl committee, for the opportunity, " WVU head coach Neal Brown said. "It's known throughout all of college football for its premier events. I speak for our staff, our athletic department and our players ... we're fired up about being there."

WVU finished the regular season at 6-6, winning four of its final six games down the stretch to earn bowl eligibility. It's the second season the Mountaineers are going to a bowl game following a 24-21 win over Army in last season's Liberty Bowl.

Minnesota (8-4) finished fifth overall in the Big 12 and second in the Big Ten West, ending the season with two wins against Wisconsin and Indiana. The Golden Gophers have never played in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl before.

This will be the first meeting between the Mountaineers and Golden Gophers.

"I have a lot of respect for the Minnesota football program and what coach (P.J.) Fleck has done there, " Brown said. "I really got to know him a lot through (current WVU offensive analyst Kirk) Ciarocca, who's been a part of our program for the last several months. What P.J.'s done not only at Minnesota, but Western Michigan before that, is special."

Ciarocca served as the offensive coordinator for the Golden Gophers from 2017-19 under Fleck. Ciarocca's successor at Minnesota, Mike Sanford Jr., was let do last week, and according to a report by Yahoo Sports, Ciarocca is on the short list as a top candidate to return to Minnesota.

As for Sanford Jr., Fleck said it was just time for a change.

"I just felt like we needed a change on offense. Mike is a tremendous person and a wonderful football coach. I just felt like we needed some new direction in the leadership for that position. And we're working our way toward making hire here very shortly."

Brown was asked if Ciarocca will be on the staff for the bowl game, "I don't have a good answer for that right now. It's a unique matchup and we'll figure it out over the next day or so."

Brown and Ciarocca have a history prior to both working together at WVU. Brown was Ciarocca's wide receivers coach at Delaware in 2005.

"He's been a mentor and a friend throughout my coaching career, " Brown said. "We've visited a lot of over the years. Our philosophy (offensively) are similar. He's been a great help here, not only for me but our entire staff. He's helped our offensive staff grow and he's helped our defensive staff."

As for injuries and opt outs, Brown said he doesn't know of any yet, but will likely know more as bowl prep gets under way.