ORLANDO — The 2017 Camping World Bowl (formerly known as the Russell Athletic Bowl) features the Virginia Tech Hokies and Oklahoma State Cowboys battling in Orlando, Florida’s stadium of the same name on Dec. 28. These representatives of the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 Conferences may not have participated in their respective league’s championships, but were a win or two away from doing so.
Oklahoma State lost to both of the participants of the Big 12 Championship Game — Oklahoma and Texas Christian University. Under Head Coach Mike Gundy however, the Cowboys managed to rank third in the nation in points per game on offense with 46.2. They also performed well when they lost to the conference-winning Sooners in their regular season contest by 10 points, 62-52. That’s even better than TCU faired in their 41-17 loss in the conference’s final game.
Virginia Tech, similar to the Cowboys, lost to the ACC’s championship combatants, Clemson and Miami, under their Head Coach, Justin Fuente. Miami’s several close calls throughout the season kept the Hokies alive in the standings of the ACC Coastal Division.
Both teams’ offensive success would be attributed to top-level wide receiver performances. The Hokies’ Cam Phillips has already set school records in receptions and receiving yards while OK State’s James Washington leads the nation in those categories.
PhilIps will unfortunately be unable to play for Virginia Tech in the bowl as he is undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. That being said, the outing against Boston College where Philips was out due to injury for most of the contest, Sean Savoy grabbed nine receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown to fill the gap. Savoy himself is also playing through a nagging injury, but is expected to suit up.
To further complicate matters for Virginia Tech, their foremost rushing threat, Travon McMillan, will also be missing the game as a graduate transfer. With that in mind, DeShawn McClease will likely take the bulk of the handoffs from quarterback Josh Jackson. Jackson is the team’s third best rusher in addition to his 2,743 yards passing on the season.
Conversely, the Cowboys’ personnel on offense has boatloads of stats. We mentioned Washington as the top receiver in the nation hauling in 1,423 yards, but his passer, Mason Rudolph, has slung passes for 4,553 yards in 2017. On the ground, Justice Hill leads the team with 1,347 yards. Coach Fuentes certainly praised them from the opposing perspective, “The thing that states out about Oklahoma State is their skill players”. He added, “You look at wide receivers, running backs, a big NFL quarterback push the tempo and score points in bunches.”
Linebacker Tremaine Edwards and the Hokies’ front seven will certainly have their hands full as a key to winning this game will be to perform as the toughest defense the Cowboys will encounter this year. Considering Edwards has recorded over 100 tackles and the Hokies top cover man, Greg Stroman, posted four interceptions and 11 passes defended, that occurrence is not out of the realm of possibility. Coach Gundy even acknowledged their prowess as a unit.
“With Virginia Tech, you see a defense that’s given up 13.5 points per game over a 12 game season, so they’ve had tremendous success and [are] very good inside.” He went on, “They’re long at the corner position, safeties are good over guys and they’ve earned those statistics.”
The job is significantly easier for OSU’s defense considering all the missing roster spots. But if linebacker Chad Whitner, safety Tre Flowers fail to get the Virginia Tech offense off the field, the Hokies will successfully keep Oklahoma State’s weapons on the bench and reduce their chances of lighting up the scoreboard.
With all the depth chart issues for Virginia Tech, the storyline heading into this match is buried in question marks, but with teams of this quality hitting the field, there will be plenty of exciting football to watch when the ball kicks off at 5:15 p.m. EST.