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Fan Factor Big in WVU Bowl Invite

December 3, 1996

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ West Virginia receiver Shawn Foreman wouldn’t hate a trip to the Liberty Bowl at Memphis.

``A lot of teams wished they were in the situation that we were in,″ Foreman said.

But when the Mountaineers, penciled in for days as heading to the Liberty, learned they would play in the more prestigious Gator Bowl against North Carolina instead, Foreman broke into a big smile.

``Just playing somewhere warm makes me happier,″ Foreman said.

Whether WVU earned the trip on the field to the Jan. 1 bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., is up for debate. The 24th-ranked Mountaineers (8-3) had a lower rating than the other two Big East teams up for the bid, No. 19 Miami (8-3) and No. 22 Syracuse (8-3).

Miami and Syracuse finished tied for the conference championship with Virginia Tech, while WVU was two games behind in fourth place. And both Miami and Syracuse beat West Virginia.

So credit this off-the-field victory to West Virginia’s fans.

``They like their Mountaineer football,″ coach Don Nehlen said of WVU’s fans, ``no question about that. In West Virginia, we don’t have a pro team or anything like that. I’ve got a feeling a few of them will be there.″

While WVU doesn’t consistently sell out its 63,500-seat Mountaineer Field, the Mountaineers faithful do like to travel to bowls. In 1989, for example, West Virginia sold 20,000 tickets to its Gator matchup with Clemson.

It was the last time the Gator Bowl sold out.

Gator Bowl officials hope they’ll have another sellout; North Carolina fans also have a history of following their team well in the postseason.

And there’s also the intriguing matchup of West Virginia’s top-ranked defense vs. North Carolina’s defense, No. 2 in the country.

``We took the team we thought was the right match for North Carolina,″ Gator executive director Rick Catlett said.

Syracuse was quickly passed over because it lost to the Tar Heels earlier this season, and bowls seldom go with rematches.

That left WVU or Miami as the choice. The Hurricanes beat West Virginia 10-7 on Oct. 26, returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in the final 30 seconds after the Mountaineers dominated defensively.

Catlett talked with Miami coach Butch Davis and athletic director Paul Dee prior to the Gator selection committee’s 7-0 vote to take WVU.

``The discussion revolved around their desire to play in the Gator Bowl,″ Catlett said. ``Normally it’s easy to make this selection. But in this case there were three teams from the Big East that all finished 8-3 and had excellent seasons.″

Nehlen wasn’t apologizing to the Hurricanes.

``Heavens no,″ Nehlen said. ``Anybody who saw the West Virginia-Miami game ... I don’t think we have to apologize to anybody.″

Foreman said the bump up to the Gator should help heal the deep wound from the Miami loss, the Mountaineers’ first of the season.

``(The Miami) game drained all our emotions out of us. But it will pick us back up,″ Foreman said.

North Carolina will have to play without Chris Keldorf, its all-Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback. Geldorf suffered a severe ankle fracture in the Tar Heels’ season finale against Duke.

In Keldorf’s place is sophomore Oscar Davenport.

``It will be his first start,″ North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. ``What a tough challenge for him, to start against the best defense in the country, on national TV, in his home state, Florida.″

The Gator kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 1. The game will be televised on NBC.

Miami is playing in the Carquest Bowl in Miami.

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