ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- 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 have not been to a bowl game since 2008 and the Cougars have not seen the post season in a decade. The bowl matchup, both coaches said, is a sign that things are changing.
The Rams are led by Vancouver's Garrett Grayson, who set a school record for passing yards this season.
"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."
Colorado State features running back Kapri Bibbs, who leads the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns, and Grayson, who ranks among the country's top 20 in passing yards (3,327). The Rams are the only team in the nation to boast a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,500-yard runner. In four games this season, the Rams' offense racked up 50 or more points -- a school record.
Meanwhile, the Cougars will have Leach's signature spread offense anchored by junior quarterback Connor Halliday. He ranks fourth nationally in passing yards (4,189) and is tied for 13th with 28 touchdown passes. That offense nearly upset Auburn in the Cougars' first game of the near in a heartbreaking 31-24 loss. Auburn is playing the BSC title game.
"We should have won that game," Leach said.
Despite the 6-6 season, Leach said he was proud of the team, especially after reaching a bowl game following a schedule that USA Today called the toughest in the country. Four of Washington State's opponents appear in the top 15 of the latest BSC standings.
Since this will be the first meeting between the two teams, both coaches admit they know very little about each other except to expect some high-powered offense. McElwain said his defense will have to be prepared.
"I know they throw the heck out of it," McElwain said. "I know (Leach) isn't afraid to throw it and he'll probably throw it coming off the bus."
Seferian-Jenkins wins Mackey Award -- A difficult year is coming to a close on a positive note for Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The Washington junior will be handed the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end this afternoon during a college football awards show at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Seferian-Jenkins and teammate Bishop Sankey both made the cross-country trip on Wednesday to be part of the show that will air live on ESPN at 4 p.m., with a "red-carpet" show starting at 3 on ESPNU.
Sankey, after setting the Washington regular-season rushing record with 1,775 yards, is one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back. The winner will be announced during the show.
Seferian-Jenkins was announced as the Mackey winner on Wednesday, after a year in which he pleaded guilty to a March drunken-driving crash, broke a pinkie in an August practice, was suspended for the Huskies' season opener and saw his offensive statistics cut in half.
Boise State hires Harsin -- Boise State has hired Bryan Harsin as the Broncos head football coach.
Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle made the announcement official Wednesday, calling Harsin one of the top young coaches in the country. The 37-year-old moves from Arkansas State to take over for Chris Petersen, who left last week for Washington.
The former Broncos assistant says he's thrilled to be returning to Boise, where he grew up and played as a walk-on for the Broncos.
Harsin worked at Boise State from 2001-2010, serving as offensive coordinator under Petersen for five years. He left in 2010 to become offensive coordinator at Texas before moving to Arkansas State last season.
In his only season as head coach, the Red Hawks finished 7-5 and will play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl this month.
The Seattle Times contributed to this report