Oklahoma, West Virginia Earn Fiesta Bowl
In the end, the Fiesta Bowl had only two options. It could pick West Virginia or Hawaii to play against Oklahoma, which drew an automatic berth as Big 12 champion.
"The selection we had was very simple," president and CEO John Junker said.
The Fiesta decided to pair the 11th-ranked Mountaineers against the third-rated Sooners in a match-up of teams that had their national title hopes dashed in the last three weeks.
The Mountaineers (11-2) were still stinging from a 13-9 loss to arch rival Pittsburgh on Saturday night — a defeat that knocked them out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.
"I'd be lying to say we weren't disappointed," Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said on a media conference call. "It's only been 24 hours since we lost our last game. But at the same time, to be invited to the Fiesta Bowl against a great opponent and a tremendous coaching staff is a great honor."
The Fiesta has played host to two representatives of non-BCS conferences — Utah and Boise State — but decided it would rather have Big East champion West Virginia instead of Hawaii, pride and champ of the Western Athletic Conference.
Oklahoma and West Virginia will meet for the fourth time, and the first in the postseason. Oklahoma leads the series 2-1.
It will be West Virginia's first appearance in the Fiesta since January 1989, when the Mountaineers and Major Harris lost to Notre Dame in a national title game.
The Mountaineers face a monthlong layoff between the regular season finale and the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Rodriguez said he expects his players to bounce back emotionally and be fired up to face the Sooners.
"Kids are more resilient than coaches," he said. "They'll have to get it turned around quickly, and I think they will. Even though everybody was down last night, I'm sure everybody will be excited about going to the Fiesta Bowl.
"It's nice to have momentum going into he bowl game, but you don't play for another whole month," Rodriguez said. "We played awful last night, so maybe we'll play better in the bowl game."
The Sooners (11-2) played superbly in their last game, routing then-No. 1 Missouri 38-17 in the Big 12 title game in San Antonio. That resounding victory wasn't enough to lift the Sooners into the BCS title game after they lost to Texas Tech two weeks ago.
Speaking to the media on a conference call, Stoops declined to second-guess the BCS for putting twice-beaten LSU into the title game against Ohio State instead of his Sooners.
"It's a little bit too late for that," Stoops said. "It doesn't much matter right now. Things are what they are."
Oklahoma will make its sixth BCS appearance since 2000.
The Sooners will play in the Fiesta Bowl for the second consecutive year and the fourth time overall. OU is 1-2 in the Fiesta.
"In the end, we're excited to be in the Fiesta Bowl," said Stoops, who won his fifth Big 12 title since taking over in Norman. "It's a fabulous bowl, first class in everything that they do."
Last January, the Sooners lost to Boise State 43-42 in overtime in a game many consider to be among the greatest in college football history.
"When people say, 'Are you excited about Oklahoma coming back,' we're thrilled about Oklahoma coming back," Junker said. "They're one of the dominant programs in college football."
West Virginia drew its second BCS bid in the last three years.
Rodriguez said he expects quarterback Pat White, who dislocated the thumb on right (non-throwing hand) against Pitt, to be ready for the Fiesta Bowl.
"It's still a little sore today, but there's no ligament damage, so he should be fine in a few days," Rodriguez said.