The Radisson Riverwalk Hotel in Jacksonville, Fla., will be home to West Virginia University’s popular Mountaineer Fan Center Dec. 30-31. Thousands of WVU fans are expected to travel to northern Florida to watch the No. 20th-ranked Mountaineers take on the No. 23rd-ranked Maryland Terrapins in the Toyota Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day.

The game at Alltel Stadiumseating capacity 73,000is already a sellout, with more than 20,000 tickets sold by the WVU Ticket Office alone. Fans are also gobbling up bowl travel packages by air and coach, making the destination a”hot”one for the new year.

Located in the heart of the city at 1515 Prudential Drive, the Radisson Riverwalk is near Jacksonville Landing, a popular shopping and dining complex near St. John’s River.

The Fan Centera traditional gathering and meeting spot for WVU fanswill operate in the Radisson Hotel ballrooms from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30, and from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31.

The event will feature a”Mountaineer Spin”game show with prizes; a WVU Football Toss; appearances by the WVU Pep Band and cheerleaders at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 31; raffles of autographed footballs and other prizes, exclusive giveaways and mementoes; and much more. The Fan Center is sponsored by WVU Institutional Advancement in conjunction with Verizon, United Bank and Coca-Cola.

Zide’s Sports Shop will be setting up a”Mountaineer Market”at the Fan Center to sell exclusive WVU merchandise, and the Gator Bowl will also have a shop there for those interested in purchasing official bowl merchandise, including Gator Bowl pins. Because of an exclusive arrangement, WVU will not be able to produce a commemorative bowl pin this year, according to officials.

After the Fan Center closes on the afternoon of Dec. 31, fans are encouraged to join the team, coaches, band, cheerleaders and mascot at the WVU Gator Bowl Big East Pep Rally at 1:30 p.m. at Jacksonville Landing.

After getting pumped, catch the Gator Bowl Parade at 3 p.m.also in Downtown Jacksonville. WVU ’s”Pride of West Virginia”Mountaineer Marching Band will join other college and high school bands, colorful floats and specialty units in this beach-themed parade.

Back at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel, from 7-8 p.m., fans are invited to watch a live broadcast of the WVU sports show Mountaineer Magazine hosted by Tony Caridi and Laura Baker. The show will air from the boardwalk outside of the hotel.

From 8-11 p.m., the Radisson Riverwalk Ballrooms will be transformed into a festive New Year’s Eve bash called”Mountaineers in Paradise,”featuring live music by”Paradise,”one of Central Florida’s premiere musical groups, plus hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, party favors and island fun. The event is sponsored by the WVU Alumni Association in cooperation with National Travel.

The special event is free for fans traveling on official Alumni Association-sponsored packages, and costs $25 per person for others. A maximum of six admissions can be purchased per person; a $2 handling fee will be charged per order. Reservations and payment must be made in advance of event by credit card (Mastercard or Visa). To register for the New Year’s”Mountaineers in Paradise”event, call 1-866-988-2586 ext. 17 from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Monday-Friday until the event sells out. No tickets will be sold on the day of the event.”(UPDATE: This event is now a sellout.)”The party ends at 11 p.m. so that fans can watch the spectacular Gator Bowl fireworks display that lights up the city skyline beginning at midnight.

On game day morning, Jan. 1, from 9:30 a.m.-noon, WVU fans are invited to the Budweiser Tailgate Party, the official tailgate party of the Toyota Gator Bowl, at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds adjacent to Alltel Stadium.

“Mountaineer Station”is the location for WVU comradery at the Gator Bowl’s official tailgate party, according to Steve Douglas, executive director of the WVU Alumni Association.

“Join in the fun as thousands of Mountaineer fans invade the Budweiser Tailgate Party, featuring live musical performances, great food and drink concessions, plus interactive games,”Douglas said.

For admission to Mountaineer Station and the Tailgate Party, Douglas said fans will need to purchase”THE PATCH ,”the official souvenir of the Toyota Gator Bowl. Each”PATCH”is $10, plus a $2 handling fee per order.

Mountaineer fans can purchase”THE PATCH “in advance by calling 1-866-988-2586 ext. 17, or stop by the alumni table at the Mountaineer Fan Center at the Radisson Dec. 30-31, while supplies last. Advance payment must be made by credit card (Mastercard or Visa).

In addition to entrance to the tailgate, Douglas said”THE PATCH “entitles fans to many Jacksonville-area discounts at most eateries and shops and is a nice souvenir item on its own.

Of course, no WVU bowl appearance would be complete without the WVU marching band,”The Pride of West Virginia.”The band is nationally renowned, having won the 1997 John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Trophy, considered the Heisman Trophy for marching bands.

The band, which has more than 300 members, leaves Morgantown the evening of Dec. 28 for the Holiday Inn Sunspree at Jacksonville Beach and will have a busy schedule during its stay in the Sunshine State, said John Hendricks, director.

Besides appearances in the Big East Pep Rally and Gator Bowl Parade, the unit will perform at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom at 10 a.m. Dec. 30, at the game day tailgate party, and during pre-game and halftime activities of the game.

The”Pride”will depart Jacksonville following the game and return to Morgantown about noon Jan. 2, Hendricks said.

Gator Bowl kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. The game is nationally televised on NBC .

WVU , with a record of 8-4, is guided by coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team was picked to finish fourth in the preseason Big East poll but ended up with a share of the Big East championship.

Rodriguez has led West Virginia to a 12-2 conference record over the past two seasons and guided them to their second straight bowl appearance. He is the second WVU coach (Don Nehlen, 1993) to earn league Coach of the Year honors and the fourth overall to be a unanimous selection.

Team headquarters in Jacksonville is the Marriott Sawgrass.