ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — When second-year Colorado State Rams coach Jim McElwain got word his team was heading to the New Mexico Bowl, he gathered them in an auditorium to break the news. The ecstatic players broke out in cheers and began high-fiving each other.
For Washington State, word spread about the Cougars' bowl invite on social media long before school officials could make a formal announcement. Mike Leach, Washington State's second-year coach, said fans were just too excited and had been waiting a long time for some good news.
The matchup between Colorado State (7-6) and Washington State (6-6) in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21, in Albuquerque will mark the first meeting between the teams and comes as both are in the mist of turning around their long-struggling programs. The Rams haven't been to a bowl game since 2008 and the Cougars haven't seen the post season in a decade. The bowl matchup, both coaches said, is a sign that things are changing.
"One of the accomplishments you want early is to get in a bowl game and be part of that club," McElwain told reporters Wednesday at a news conference in Albuquerque. "There's a certain aura that comes with being a bowl team."
McElwain, an offensive coordinator for Alabama during the Crimson Tide's BCS national championships in 2009 and 2011, said the bowl appearance was important stepping stone at rebuilding the program because it will help with recruiting.
Leach said the Cougars are largely made up of freshmen and sophomores, but his seniors have been through "rough dry times" and haven't had the experience of being in a post-season game. "They've never been in a bowl and (had) hoped they would," Leach said. "Talking about it and actually doing it are two different things."