MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It seems there's already a bit of a shocker involving West Virginia and the Champs Sports Bowl ... and it has nothing to do with the Mountaineers having a lame duck head coach in Bill Stewart.
WVU's first bowl trip to Orlando, Fla., for the Dec. 28 night game against North Carolina State hasn't exactly had Mountaineer faithful flocking to the ticket window.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, when the WVU Coliseum ticket office closed following the men's basketball win over Cleveland State, WVU had sold only a bit more than one-third of its bowl allotment of 12,500 tickets.
Matt Wells, WVU's sports marketing director, said the school has sold only 4,403 tickets. That number is in stark contrast to past years, when the Mountaineers were known for traveling in significant numbers at bowl time.
Wells said that with about 1,000-1,200 additional tickets to be used by the band, in the players' allotment and for the official WVU travel party, West Virginia has about 7,000 unsold tickets for the game in eight days.
Prior to this year, West Virginia's worst bowl ticket sales in its run of nine straight seasons of reaching the postseason was about 10,000 for the Fiesta Bowl to finish the 2007 season - and that was across the country, in Glendale, Ariz., following Coach Rich Rodriguez's exit to Michigan.
In recent bowl trips to Florida, West Virginia has sold 24,600, 10,600, 15,700 and 14,750 for four Gator Bowl trips from 2003 through last season.
WVU sold its allotment of 15,000 for the 2005 Sugar Bowl in Atlanta, and its two trips to bowls in Charlotte, N.C., in 2002 and 2008, sold more than 35,000 (2002) and 18,800 (2009).
Wells said the lack of support for the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers (9-3) seems to be mostly due to the game's midweek date and its proximity to Christmas - or at least that's why WVU athletic officials are hearing from the buying public.
"We thought we'd do better than this, obviously," Wells said, pointing out the different destination for WVU's postseason and the other attractions in the Orlando area. "It's kind of surprising to us."
Wells said there has been no indication that the sluggish sales are related to last week's announcement that Dana Holgorsen would replace Stewart as head coach as early as 2012, after serving as offensive coordinator and "coach in waiting" next season.
North Carolina State has sold about 9,000 tickets from its allotment of 13,500 as the ACC representative in the game.
One of the reasons the Champs Sports officials selected West Virginia to play in the bowl as the Big East team was the school's history of fan support at bowl time.
Bowl officials were said to be deciding between WVU's potential fan draw and the national television exposure Notre Dame might bring in choosing the Mountaineers over the Fighting Irish (7-5).
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WHEN THE Mountaineers returned to workouts Saturday to prepare here for the Champs sports Bowl, starting cornerback Brandon Hogan still wasn't able to practice. Hogan suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in WVU's Dec. 4 victory over Rutgers.
WVU head football trainer Dave Kerns has called the injury "a third-degree sprain of (the ACL), which would be a complete tear."