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Hoos face Mustangs in Fenway Bowl

The Cavaliers have been bowl eligible in five of the six seasons under Bronco Mendenhall who's stepping down after the season.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia’s season and Bronco Mendenhall’s six-year run as coach of the Cavaliers will end in a game that has never been played before.

The Hoos are shipping up to Boston.

UVa is headed to the inaugural Fenway Bowl, where it’ll meet SMU on Dec. 29 at Fenway Park – the iconic home of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

“There are a handful of sporting arenas in the country that are as unique, historic and beloved as Fenway Park,” Mendenhall said in a press release. “So, the idea of coaching my last game at Virginia at a place like Fenway Park, I really like that.”

Kickoff between the Cavaliers (6-6) of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Mustangs of the American Athletic Conference (8-4) is set for 11 a.m. and the contest will be televised on ESPN. With the backdrop of the Green Monster, it’ll also be the first-ever New England-area bowl game to be played, even though college football at Fenway Park is nothing new.

The ballpark hosted college football games dating back to 1914, but more recently held a 2015 regular-season game between Notre Dame and Boston College and has hosted other Division I regular-season contests featuring Northeast schools such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Harvard and Yale.

“At the beginning of the year, we set winning a bowl championship as one of our goals,” Mendenhall said. “We are going to plan a great experience for our team, enjoy our time in one of the most historic cities in our country and prepare really hard for the final time we will compete together.”

UVa will be making its fourth bowl game appearance under Mendenhall, whose team began the campaign with so much promise.

The Cavaliers were 6-2 after rattling off four straight victories from late September into October. They won at Miami and at Louisville before beating Duke and Georgia Tech, and looked like they were on the verge of catapulting into the Top 25 and, perhaps, playing themselves into one of the ACC’s top-tier bowl destinations with a strong finish.

But UVa dropped its last four including games at Pittsburgh – one that had Coastal Division championship implications at stake – and its rivalry bout to Virginia Tech last week. Only five days after losing a heartbreaker to the Hokies, Mendenhall announced he’d step down from his post in charge of the Cavaliers following their bowl game. He said he wanted to spend more time with his wife and needed to, “reassess, renew, reframe and reinvent” while taking a step back from college football.

In his remarks on Thursday, though, he noted focusing and prepping UVa’s players for this game wouldn’t be difficult.

“It goes back to normal because that’s the normal thing I do as a coach,” Mendenhall said. “And that might be too much to ask, but kids are resilient and coaches are resilient. And so, once the routine starts, again, whenever we start that, in preparation … that routine is in our bodies, almost like when you drive to work you probably go the same direction and you don’t have to think about it much. You move right to that spot, you get going. And there’s security and comfort in that.”

As for SMU, it’s program going through transition as well following its second season in the last three years with at least eight wins.

Former Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes is on his way out, having accepted the same job at TCU. SMU hired former Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to replace Dykes.

This will be the first ever matchup between UVa and SMU.