MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There are all sorts of differences between football in the Big 12 and the Big East. Most of them are readily evident to the eye in terms of style of play and talent level.
Here's one that is a bit more nuanced, however: motivation.
When West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) plays Kansas (1-10, 0-8) Saturday afternoon at Mountaineer Field, it might be the first time all season the Mountaineers have not faced a team with the concrete motivation of preserving a national ranking, becoming bowl eligible or simply building on success.
The only motivation for the Jayhawks is perhaps proving that they are not as bad as they seem.
"That's just the nature of the conference we're in,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. "Last year we played three or four teams in this situation. Now, we don't get to play any.''
Indeed, from the beginning of the season right to the end, the Mountaineers have faced one team after another with something to prove and plenty to play for. Marshall certainly was motivated by its last chance to beat WVU, James Madison by playing its only FBS opponent and Maryland because of the rivalry.
Then came a string of eight straight Big 12 opponents, every one of them ranked in the Top 25 at one point or another during the season and all now bowl eligible.
Now comes a Kansas team that hasn't won since the opening week and not anxious at all to carry what would be an 11-game losing streak (and 21 straight Big 12 losses) into the offseason.
"Our last eight games have been against ranked teams that will play in a bowl game. Every team that we've played this year has been motivated to play,'' Holgorsen said. "Last year it was different. I don't think we've lined up and played an unmotivated football team this year. But the fact that we're going to line up and play a motivated team for the 12th time this season is the way they should be.''
Now, of course, the motivational aspect of the equation shifts to West Virginia.
The Mountaineers endured that five-game losing streak that followed a heady 5-0 start and a national ranking of No. 5. In snapping it last week with a 31-24 win at Iowa State, West Virginia accomplished really the only concrete goal it had left, which was to become bowl eligible.