WSU 'willing to play any opponent' in Sun Bowl after COVID-19 forces Miami to withdraw

The University of Miami withdrew on Sunday from its scheduled Sun Bowl appearance against Washington State, citing a COVID-19 outbreak on the roster.

The withdrawal prompted Washington State head coach Jake Dickert to offer to play "any opponent" in the game scheduled for Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas. Dickert, whose Cougars are already in El Paso, made the plea on Twitter.

It wasn't immediately clear who, if anyone, would be able to replace Miami as of Sunday evening. Washington State announced that it was working with the Pac-12 and the Sun Bowl Association to find an opponent. Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel reported that Illinois — which initially failed to qualify for a bowl at 5-7 — was not a likely candidate for the game.

Dickert had expressed his excitement for the game in a news conference from El Paso shortly before Miami announced its withdrawal.

Miami had previously delayed travel to El Paso

Miami's withdrawal wasn't completely unexpected. The Hurricanes were scheduled to arrive in El Paso over the weekend, but delayed their planned trip to as late as Dec. 30 amid reports of at least 10 positive COVID-19 cases on the team on Friday. Sun Bowl commissioner John Folmer told the Miami Herald on Friday that he was still planning for Miami to play.

"We're not looking for anyone else to play but Miami. The people in El Paso are buying tickets because of Miami. People in El Paso follow Miami," Folmer said.

EUGENE, OREGON - NOVEMBER 13: Head coach Jake Dickert of the Washington State Cougars works the sidelines during the first half of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 13, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
WSU coach Jake Dickert pleaded for a Sun Bowl opponent after Miami's wihtdrawal. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Miami's statement

Miami athletic director Jennifer Strawley addressed Miami's decision in a statement Sunday evening.

"We are extremely disappointed that our football team will be unable to participate in the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl," Strawley said in a statement. "This team worked hard all season to earn a bowl invitation and my heart goes out to our student-athletes, especially our seniors. ...

"We regret the impact this has on the Washington State program and their postseason experience."

Another withdrawal amid Omicron surge

Miami is the fifth program to withdraw from a bowl game because of COVID-19, which is experiencing a new U.S. spike amid the Omicron variant. Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel reported on Sunday that both the Military Bowl between Boston College and East Carolina and the Fenway Bowl between Virginia and SMU because of COVID-19 outbreaks with Boston College and Virginia were unable to field teams for the games.

An outbreak on the Hawaii football team forced the cancellation of last week's Hawaii Bowl, while COVID-19 forced Texas A&M to withdraw from the Gator Bowl. Rutgers will replace Texas A&M for the Dec. 31 game against Wake Forest.