ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For Brad Kaaya, the Russell Athletic Bowl was a beginning.
It may also be the end.
Kaaya’s first time seeing Miami play in person was at that bowl three years ago, when the then-recruit paid for his own flight and ticket to watch. He’ll be back in that same stadium Wednesday, when the Hurricanes (8-4) take on No. 14 West Virginia (10-2) in this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl — a game that may be Kaaya’s finale as Miami’s quarterback, if the prolific junior decides to head early to the NFL.
“I’m just focused on this game,” said Kaaya, who along with star Miami tight end David Njoku has been weighing the stay-or-go decision for a few weeks. “We haven’t won a bowl game in like 10 years. That’s a pretty big deal to this school. So right now it’s all about beating West Virginia.”
Kaaya is already Miami’s all-time leader in passing yards with 9,686, and is eight completions and 17 attempts away from taking over the No. 1 spot on the Hurricanes’ career lists in those categories.
“I would say he’s pretty good because they have had a lot of good quarterbacks through there,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I could have sworn he would have been a senior by now but just a junior to be able to be the all-time leading passer in Miami history speaks for itself.”
West Virginia has some history in mind as well.
With a win over Miami, the Mountaineers will tie a school record by getting their 11th victory of the season — set on five other occasions in West Virginia’s 125-year history of football.
“We are all looking for that 11th,” Mountaineers tight end Elijah Wellman said. “There has only been five teams in the history of Mountaineer football to do that. That’s our goal. We are not finished. We have one more game, and we are going to attack it.”
West Virginia has won 15 of its last 18 games, has averaged 507 yards of offense per game this season and led the Big 12 by forcing 25 turnovers in conference games.
“A damn good football team,” Kaaya said.
Here’s some of what to know going into Wednesday’s game against former Big East rivals:
SKYLER’S NUMBERS: West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard ranks among the nation’s leaders in rushing touchdowns (nine) and yards per completion (13.9). He’s not just a runner who occasionally throws; Howard averages 266 yards passing per game and has completed 61 percent of his attempts in 2016.
KEEP GUESSING: Part of Howard’s success is that the Mountaineers move the ball around very well, keeping defenses guessing about who his favorite target will be on a particular day. Shelton Gibson, Ka’Raun White and Daikiel Shorts Jr. combined for 18 touchdown catches in the regular season, all averaging between 53 and 77 receiving yards per game. Plus, the Mountaineers have six players with at least one catch that went for 48 yards or more.
STILL WAITING: Miami’s last bowl win was Dec. 31, 2006, when the Hurricanes topped Nevada in Larry Coker’s final game with the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have changed coaches five times since (including interims), and 109 different FBS schools have won at least one bowl game since Miami’s last postseason win. Miami has lost in each of its last six bowl trips.
BOWL HISTORY: By any name, this game hasn’t been particularly kind to either the Mountaineers or Hurricanes. West Virginia is 0-3 all-time in this game (losing in 1995 and 1997 when it was called the Carquest Bowl and played in Miami Gardens, and in 2010 when it was called the Champs Sports Bowl and played in Orlando). Miami is 2-2 in this game, winning a Carquest Bowl in 1996, a MicronPC Bowl in 1998 — and losing twice in Orlando, the Champs Sports Bowl in 2009 and getting drubbed by Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl in 2013.
AGAINST RANKED: Miami is 2-8 in its last 10 games against AP Top 25 teams — and both of those wins were against ranked Duke clubs. West Virginia is the highest-ranked team Miami will face in 2016; Florida State has since passed the Mountaineers in the national poll, but the Seminoles were only No. 23 when they faced the Hurricanes in their annual rivalry game back in October.
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