EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – For the second time since 2015, Miami and Washington State will do battle in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, the bowl committee announced on Sunday afternoon.
The Cougars and Hurricanes will square off in the 88th edition of the game on New Year’s Eve. It’s the first time the contest has been played since 2019, after the Sun Bowl was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 edition of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl will kickoff at 10 a.m. and air on CBS, as it has for over 50 years. Kickoff time was moved up two hours to accommodate the College Football Playoff games scheduled for later that day.
It’s a rematch of the 2015 edition of the Sun Bowl, in which Washington State defeated Miami 20-14 in a blizzard the day after Christmas. It’s notable, that each time Miami has come to El Paso it has snowed in the Sun Bowl; the same phenomenon happened in 2010 when the Hurricanes lost to Notre Dame, 33-17.
“I didn’t care who we had or who we got, but as it ended up we got two really good teams,” said Sun Bowl Football Committee Chairman John Folmer. “The important thing is we’ll have the game, a crowd, for the people of El Paso that love our game.”
Miami (7-5) and Washington State (7-5) enter the Sun Bowl with similar season stories. After slow starts, they both rattled off big winning streaks to close the season and end up in El Paso. The Hurricanes won five of their final six games; the Cougars won three of their last four and six of their final eight.
Simply put, these were the two teams that the Sun Bowl selection committee was hoping for when they sat down to make their choice on Sunday. Multiple bowl projections had Miami and WSU coming to El Paso; that was the best case scenario for the bowl, too.
“We have to wait for the upper bowls to pick. After their selections, I think we got the best teams we could’ve gotten,” said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas. “Both teams are red hot. It’s always good to have teams in an upward trend and I think they’re going to give us a tremendous show.”
It was an interesting season on the Palouse for Washington State, to say the least. Head coach Nick Rolovich was terminated for cause in October for refusing to comply with the state of Washington’s vaccine mandate for state employees. Rolovich’s attempt to receive a religious exemption was denied.
With Rolovich and four unvaccinated assistants, Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber fired, in stepped defensive coordinator Jake Dickert to serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Dickert made enough of an impact in the final five games of 2021 that he earned the full-time head coaching gig moving forward. Making a bowl game is the cherry on top for Dickert.
“It’s really rewarding. When I took over mid-season, (making a bowl) was something we were focused on because we were talented enough and playing our best football at that moment,” Dickert said on Sunday. “We wanted to make sure to finish the season the right way. This group is excited about being together and having this opportunity.”
The Cougars are led offensively by running back Max Borghi, rushed for 880 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. Quarterback Jayden de Laura threw for 2,751 yards and 23 touchdowns in the regular season. Two receivers – Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris – combined to catch 136 passes for over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cougars were a solid unit under Dickert, allowing only 24.5 points and 379 yards per game. It was also quite opportunistic, forcing 27 total turnovers and racking up 25 sacks.
Miami, meanwhile, has been playing as well as any team in the nation to close the season. After a 2-4 start, the Hurricanes racked up five wins in their last six games, including a victory over ACC champion, Pittsburgh.
That might not be enough to save the job of head coach Manny Diaz, though. The Hurricanes, currently operating under interim athletic director Jennifer Strawley, are reportedly in hot pursuit of Oregon head coach – and former Hurricane player – Mario Cristobal.
According to Sports Illustrated, Cristobal has until Monday to make up his mind about returning to his alma mater; if he stays at Oregon, Diaz would keep his job as the head coach of the Hurricanes and come to El Paso for the Sun Bowl. If Cristobal picks Miami, the Hurricanes would have an interim head coach for the bowl.
“We are excited to be selected to participate in the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl,” Strawley said in a statement. “The Sun Bowl Association and the El Paso community always put on a terrific event. I know our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans will have a memorable bowl experience.”
Regardless of Diaz’s status for the game, the Hurricanes could be formidable when they come to the Sun City. After D’Eriq King went down for the season with a shoulder injury in October, Tyler Van Dyke has stepped in, throwing for 2,931 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 10 games for Miami. His emergence has keyed the ‘Canes late-season surge.
Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo is Van Dyke’s preferred target at wide receiver. Rambo has 79 receptions for 1,172 yards and seven scores. Five other receivers have over 250 yards receiving in 2021. Jaylan Knighton leads the rushing attack with 561 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Hurricanes defense wasn’t as strong statistically as Washington State’s in 2021. Miami forced just 11 turnovers, but did accumulate 30 sacks while giving up 28 points per game. The offense averaged 34 points per game for the Hurricanes.
The Action Network projects Miami to be a five-point favorite over Washington State. If the last meeting between the two in 2015 is any indication, it could be another fantastic showdown in the Sun Bowl.
Tickets for the 88th Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl are on sale through Ticketmaster and the Sun Bowl Association office.