Washington State football players probably weren’t surprised when the news came down Sunday that WSU is headed to the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21. Their coach, Mike Leach, hadn’t done much to keep them in suspense.
“I told them (in practices) we’re going to a bowl game,” said Leach, who didn’t actually know it then. “At no point was there any doubt in my mind we were going to a bowl.
“You play in the toughest conference in the country against the toughest schedule in the nation … it’s unfathomable we wouldn’t go to a bowl.”
All along, New Mexico had been a logical destination for the Cougars, who went 6-6 and find themselves in a bowl game for the first time since the Holiday in 2003. They’ll play Colorado State (7-6) in Albuquerque in the first bowl game of 35 on the bloated schedule.
“Every bowl I’ve been to is a great experience,” Leach said. “I couldn’t be more excited to go.”
Athletic director Bill Moos said the bowl requires a ticket commitment of $150,000 by the school, which, at $25 and $40 apiece, he figures to require about 5,000 tickets.
“I would guess we’d sell 5,000 to 6,000, maybe a few more,” said Moos, who indicated that when WSU became bowl-eligible Nov. 23, the school started taking commitments from fans pledging tickets “regardless of where we were going to go.” He puts that ticket number at about 2,500, saying, “that’s a very good sign.”
Moos said the Pac-12 Conference will, as a matter of policy, subsidize half of any unsold tickets of that commitment.
The bowl lists a payout of $750,000 per team, and Moos said, “We will spend all of that and probably a bit more. It’s been my practice to do these things right and make sure we have the proper people there.
“We’re not going to be extravagant in regard to taking the whole staff in the building, but those that I feel are essential and contributors to the success of the season will go. Everybody will have a work assignment while we’re there.”
The marching band and spirit groups will make the trip, he said.
Colorado State started slowly, losing to Colorado in its opener, and was 2-4 at one point. But it rebounded and scored 50-plus points four times, much of it on the strength of 5-foot-11, 203-pound running back Kapri Bibbs, who amassed 1,572 yards rushing on a 6.2-yard average.
The quarterback is 6-2, 220-pound junior Garrett Grayson of Vancouver, Wash., who threw for 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. The most decorated defender is 6-2, 250-pound linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who has 12 sacks among 20.5 tackles for loss.
One oddity shared by the two New Mexico Bowl combatants: WSU opened the season with a 31-24 loss at Auburn, which will play for the BCS national title, and Colorado State had a 31-6 defeat at Alabama three weeks later.