Just a couple of hours after the Washington State football team landed Sunday in El Paso, Texas, it learned its opponent in the Sun Bowl, the University of Miami, had been forced to pull out of the Friday game because of coronavirus concerns.
Cougars coach Jake Dickert took to Twitter to issue a plea.
“Our team is in El Paso and willing to play any opponent,” Dickert wrote. “Our team just wants one more chance to finish this storied 2021 season.”
A little more than 24 hours later, Dickert got his wish.
When Boise State pulled out of the Arizona Bowl on Monday because of its own pandemic problems, that left Central Michigan sitting in Tucson, Ariz., with nobody to play Friday.
With Tucson and El Paso only about 300 miles apart on Interstate 10, a deal was struck for the Chippewas to bus eastward to meet Washington State in the Sun Bowl, with the Arizona Bowl being canceled.
Terms of the agreement weren’t announced, but Central Michigan should be in for a windfall. The Sun Bowl, one of the oldest in college football, has a payout of more than $4.5 million per team and is broadcast on CBS. The Arizona Bowl offered a $350,000 payout per school and was going to be streamed online.
“We are grateful for the diligent work of the Sun Bowl Association, the Pac-12 Conference, the Mid-American Conference and Central Michigan University to ensure the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl will be played,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said in a statement.
The Chippewas (8-4) feature the Football Bowl Subdivision’s leading rusher, Lew Nichols III, who gained 1,710 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground. Nichols also had 300 yards and two TDs receiving.
Despite being the MAC’s freshman of the year in 2020, Nichols was supposed to be a secondary option this season until Kobe Lewis sustained a knee injury in summer camp.
“I kind of just pulled (Nichols) aside and said, ‘Look, here we go, let’s jump on your back and ride,'” McElwain said. “I’ve been at some pretty good places, had a Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009, when McElwain was an assistant at Alabama) and had some other things.
“But to lead the nation in rushing, that’s a heck of a feat.”
The Chippewas won their final four regular-season games, a span in which they averaged 41 points per contest, to tie Northern Illinois for the MAC’s West Division title.
The Cougars (7-5) have won six of their past eight games, including snapping a seven-game Apple Cup losing streak with a 40-13 victory against rival Washington. Max Borghi rushed for 129 yards and two TDs in that game but is skipping the bowl game and entering the NFL draft.
Cougars right tackle Abraham Lucas and cornerback Jaylen Watson also didn’t make the trip to prepare for their pro futures.
“We had a lot of conversations about it, and we obviously wish them the best of luck, and we support them,” said Dickert, who took over at midseason after Nick Rolovich was dismissed for not following the state’s vaccine mandate. “Everyone has their own individual situations.”
–Field Level Media