Changes to the bowl schedule because of COVID-19 and other availability issues have been notable here in the 2021-22 postseason. However, some last-minute adjustments have allowed for one of the most historic bowl games to continue, as the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl prepares for Washington State and Central Michigan on Friday.
The matchup for the Sun Bowl was initially announced as Washington State against Miami, but the Hurricanes had to withdraw from the game because of COVID-19 issues in the program. Luckily for the Sun Bowl, which was first played in 1935 and is among the oldest college football bowl games, there was a team in need of opponent nearby. Boise State dropping out of the Arizona Bowl meant that Central Michigan was available to make the four-hour drive from Tucson to El Paso in time to prepare for Friday's game.
So it's game on in El Paso, where Washington State and Central Michigan will each hope to end their season on a strong note after a frenetic week that involved changes in preparation and, for the Chippewas, even more travel than initially expected. But even after all that, we'll still have those beautiful scenes from Sun Bowl Stadium as this game gets a huge day of college football started on New Year's Eve.
Washington State vs. Central Michigan: Need to know
Jake Dickert takes over as coach for the Cougars: Washington State named Dickert the interim coach for the final six weeks of the season after the dismissal of Nick Rolovich. Dickert proceeded to lead the Cougars to a 3-2 record that rounded out a 6-3 showing in Pac-12 play and 7-5 overall record. Removing the interim tag and naming Dickert the full-time head coach was official shortly after Washington State throttled Washington in the Apple Cup, snapping a seven-game skid to the Huskies. Once Dickert took over, the team saw increases in scoring, rushing yards and total offenses, along with complimentary improvements in points allowed, pass defense and total defense. Now he gets a chance to notch his first bowl win in the first game as the official coach of the future for this Cougars program.
Chippewas looking for first bowl win since 2012: Central Michigan finished as the co-champions of the MAC West Division after going 6-2 in conference play, but did not have the tiebreaker against Northern Illinois to make the conference title game. It was still a strong finish for Jim McElwain's Chippewas, winning four games against four bowl teams to close the season on a winning streak and bring a ton of confidence and momentum into the bowl game. The hope for CMU fans is the impressive finish carries over and the program can snap a five-game losing streak in the bowl season.
Washington State is led by strong quarterback play: Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year after leading the Pac-12 with 2,751 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and 250.1 passing yards per game. He threw at least three touchdowns in five different games and frequently connected with Travell Harris, who finished second in the Pac-12 in touchdown receptions, and Calvin Jackson Jr., who finished second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards.
How to watch Sun Bowl live
Sun Bowl prediction, picks
The Cougars' ability to navigate a tumultuous situation between its head coach and the administration, finishing as the runner-up in the Pac-12 North, was one of the most impressive stories in the conference this year. Central Michigan not only had to make the last minute travel adjustments, but faces a group that seems poised for a final statement in Dickert's first game as full-time head coach. Prediction: Washington State (-7)
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