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Win means even more in light of recent news

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The biggest player in West Virginia's 37-31 victory over Maryland at Byrd Stadium on Saturday had to be Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 388 yards.

Completed 36-of-49 passes. Had a terrific day.

Overall, though, the biggest player for WVU right now just might be athletic director Oliver Luck.

Before Saturday's game, there were fireworks on Capital One Field. Army parachutists flew in. (A nod to WVU coach Dana Holgorsen?) The talk, however, was about the logo on the field, near where a couple of the soldiers landed: that of the ACC. It was about the fireworks surrounding Maryland's conference.

According to reports, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, members of WVU's Big East Conference, have applied for membership into the ACC. One report said the two schools are "likely gone" from the Big East.

That would be a devastating blow to the Big East football schools, including West Virginia. Unless, that is, the Mountaineers can jump to the rugged Southeastern Conference.

The odds of that happening increased somewhat when the ACC decided to raise its exit fee to a whopping $20 million, which almost certainly rules out a move of Virginia Tech from the ACC to the SEC.

Those closely following WVU know there have been rumors sending the Mountaineers to the SEC for a couple weeks now. But there is no solid evidence the conference would absorb the school after Texas A&M ultimately joins.

There is evidence, however, WVU officials were blind-sided by Pitt and Syracuse. On Saturday, Luck refused to comment, but one Mountaineer official said the staff didn't learn of the news until the ride to Byrd Stadium.

So now the future of WVU sports might be on the shoulders of Luck. Former school AD Ed Pastilong and staff engineered WVU into the Big East in football, then in basketball. Now Luck, a former Mountaineer and NFL quarterback, might have to shake off another blind-side hit and rally his team.

Winning on Saturday didn't hurt. Playing in a Big East that's again sagging, WVU got past a Maryland team that defeated Miami, Fla., to start the season. The Mountaineers won on the road. They won against an ACC opponent. They solidified their Top 25 ranking to keep a high profile while expansion talks are heated.

No, it wasn't pretty at the end. But a loss would have been hurtful while Luck seeks a home for the school.

Give the WVU players credit. They picked it up by picking it up. After the Norfolk State game, coach Dana Holgorsen said he didn't believe his players understood how important a quick tempo was to his offense.

They understood, or at least listened, against Maryland. In the first half especially, Smith and company got to the line quickly after each play. They had the Terrapin defense on its heels. They rolled up 315 first-half yards.

It was the finest exhibition of a Mountaineer offense since the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2007 season, when WVU defeated Oklahoma 48-28.

"It was exciting," said redshirt senior offensive lineman Don Barclay, who was in the program for that season. "It was exciting to come out and hop on [Maryland] quickly. We had good intensity. That's what you need to do on the road. That's the best possible situation. We just have to finish."

"The tempo for us was fantastic," Holgorsen said. "Of course, when you get things going it's easier to have tempo."

In the first half, it seemed as if WVU could score on every possession. The team did on five of eight possessions. A couple fumbles killed two drives. Holgorsen made a risky call to go for a fourth-and-3 that didn't pan out.

But one got the same feel that cloaked the Mountaineers when Rich Rodriguez coached the team - at least through three quarters. WVU didn't punt until there were but 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

When Mountaineer receiver Stedman Bailey torched his man on a deep ball to make it 34-10, it had that feel. The offense had a nice mix of tempo, personnel, play-calling and clock management. The team was grinding, the team was striking.

Credit Maryland, though, for stemming the tide.

"They played hard," Holgorsen said of the Terps. "We didn't for the majority of time in the second half."

Thankfully for WVU, Eain Smith intercepted a wild Danny O'Brien pass on what appeared to be a go-ahead drive. Had Maryland scored, it would have taken a one-point lead (eerily, the Terrapins were favored by one), but Geno Smith was able to take a knee after the pick to seal the WVU victory.

"To come up with a play like that, at an away game, is huge for the whole team," said linebacker Najee Goode of the interception.

It was. A victory over LSU would be monumental.

"It's another game to us," said safety Terence Garvin. "We're not looking at [LSU] as Almighty God."

For now, though, defeating Maryland suffices.

Good win? Yes. Great win? Not particularly.

But with the wheels spinning faster and faster in the area of conference realignment, it could prove to be very important. WVU has a solid national reputation when it comes to football.

But timing is everything.

Ask Eain Smith.

And now ask Oliver Luck.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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