WVU puts it on the line
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen would prefer not to put any more pressure on his West Virginia football team than already exists. Still, it's impossible to avoid the obvious.
"This game is what this team's going to be remembered for,'' Holgorsen said Monday. "You can take the rest of the games and you can delete them. You can erase them. Forget them. What this team's going to be remembered for is what happens this week at South Florida.''
OK, so maybe that's a bit over the top. Then again, given what's at stake, it could very well be true.
West Virginia, given up for road kill as recently as just over two weeks ago, has a chance Thursday night to claim a share of the Big East championship. The No. 22 Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) face South Florida (5-6, 1-5) in an 8 p.m. game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., and a win will do nothing worse than tie them with Louisville atop the league standings.
True, if that happens then what takes place two days later in Cincinnati looms just as large or larger. If the Bearcats beat Connecticut that day it would forge a three-way tie for the league title and give West Virginia the league's automatic BCS bowl berth. No other combination of events will accomplish that.
The simple truth, then, is that if Saturday doesn't turn out to WVU's liking, Thursday won't matter nearly as much. It would be the second year in a row the Mountaineers have tied for the league title without earning the BCS bid. Then there will be no deleting or erasing or forgetting an out-of-nowhere beatdown at the hands of Syracuse or a shocking home loss to Louisville. It will be those games that burn as the most significant memories of Holgorsen's first season.
Still, if Holgorsen is attempting to convey the importance of Thursday's game at USF to his players, he hit the mark. Because at least in their minds, this is the game - the last one - they will remember until whatever bowl game comes along.
"Oh, I don't think there's any question we understand how important this one is,'' said quarterback Geno Smith. "It's a huge game. We have a chance to seal up at least a share of the Big East and that's something that's always been one of our goals.
"It's a one-game season. It's pretty much win or go home. We have a chance to put ourselves in a pretty good position with a win.''
There is, of course, a school of thought that says coaches can put too much pressure on players by talking about how important any single game might be. That's why, to a man, they preach one-game-at-a-time philosophies and eschew the notion that a game against LSU is any more or less important than one against Maryland.
But with no regular-season games remaining after this one, Holgorsen isn't even trying to keep his players on any sort of even keel. Even game preparations are being speeded up and altered, out of necessity - quickened because of a short week and scheduled later in the day because of class schedules. On Monday night, West Virginia wasn't even scheduled to hit the practice field until 9 p.m. because Monday is normally a day off and players have classes scheduled into the evening.
In other words, it's hard to treat this week like any other, so Holgorsen doesn't try.
"It is [different], so we have to prepare like it is,'' he said Monday. "We've got four days here and then we can take a break after that. But right now's no time to take a break. Whatever we did to prepare to beat Cincinnati and whatever we did to prepare to beat Pitt, we've got to do it again and we've got to do it right now.
"We don't have any time to rest or feel good about a victory or say it was too hard and now we need a break. We don't have time for that. The truth of the matter is it does come down to this one game. This is the only game left. Right now this is the only game on the schedule and we'd better give it everything we've got, because this team's going to be remembered by what happens Thursday night.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.