MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Given where things were just five weeks earlier, West Virginia Coach Bill Stewart won't concern himself with what might have been.
The Mountaineers accepted an invitation Sunday to play in the Champs Sports Bowl, in Orlando Fla., not 24 hours after UConn beat South Florida to claim the Big East's place in the Bowl Championship Series. In last place in the Big East on Oct. 30, WVU won its final four games and shared the conference title with the Huskies and Pitt.
"I see no disappointment whatsoever," Stewart said. "I see some calls from my players already, so I know they're excited. We are Big East champs. I'm very proud of our record and very proud of the resolve our seniors and this football team showed these last four games.
"Being 1-2 (in the Big East) at one time and coming out and playing like we have the last month is a real tribute to the young men in our program."
The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers will play North Carolina State on Dec. 28, the No. 3 pick from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The bowl offers a $2 million payout and caps a lucrative weekend for Stewart. He'll bank $125,000 in contract bonuses for winning nine regular season games ($25,000), earning a share of the conference championship ($75,000) and getting to a non-BCS bowl ($25,000).
The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN at the Citrus Bowl. The 74-year-old stadium is in the early stages of a $175 million renovation project. The natural grass surface has been replaced by AstroTurf Gameday Grass 3D.
Players in two bowls at the stadium last winter complained about the grass before and after their games.
Miami running back Graig Cooper tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year when he went down untouched on a kickoff return in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin.
Penn State and LSU players were concerned a week later before they played in the Capital One Bowl on the same field.
"We should have what is widely considered one of the best fields in the country," said Steve Hogan, who is the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, which conducts the Champs Sports Bowl.
The Wolfpack (8-4, 5-3 ACC) missed out on the BCS, too. A win in their regular-season finale against Maryland would have pushed them into the ACC title game against Virginia Tech, but the Terrapins wiped out a 14-0 deficit and won 38-31.
N.C. State played two WVU opponents. Cincinnati lost in Raleigh, N.C., 30-19. WVU defeated Maryland 31-14 and Cincinnati 37-10.