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Going out with a whimper

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's been a dozen years since West Virginia ended a football season this way, in a regular-season finale with no bowl game looming.

In a way, though, it can be argued that no Mountaineer season in nearly a quarter of a century has ended quite this miserably.

Indeed, even in the years over the past two decades when West Virginia missed out on a bowl game, the regular-season finale still meant something. Since 1991, West Virginia has missed bowl games just five times. In three of those five seasons the finale was against Pitt, and the Backyard Brawl always meant something. The other two times, WVU went into the final game with a .500 record, needing a win to avoid a losing season.

Today, West Virginia (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) faces Iowa State (2-9, 1-7) at Mountaineer Field. Win or lose, WVU will not go to a bowl and will still endure its first losing season since 2001. The opponent is certainly not Pitt or any other long-time rival. Perhaps not since a 4-7 West Virginia team ended the 1990 season with a loss at South Carolina have the Mountaineers been in more of a position of simply playing out the string.

With all of that in mind, perhaps the most intriguing questions concerning today's game are how many fans will show up for the finale (students are on Thanksgiving break) and whether the Mountaineers themselves will show - at least with a resolve to play.

Coach Dana Holgorsen seems to be banking on his team making a commitment to play for the 14 seniors who will play their final game today. Or at least that's what he's been preaching in the absence of anything more tangible.

"It's the last time some of these guys are going to be playing football,'' Holgorsen said. "It's the last time all of them are going to be playing on Mountaineer Field. They deserve for everybody to do their best this week to try to get the win.''

Iowa State has already gone through this. The Cyclones played their final home game last week in frigid temperatures in Ames and walloped Kansas 34-0. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, a near-capacity crowd showed up at Jack Trice Stadium.

"We were [winless] at home going into [the Kansas] game, it was the coldest weather conditions for a game in the history of this program - and that's a lot of football being played in a northern state - and there were a lot of fans there and they were into the football game,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "It was uplifting. It was exciting.''

Whether West Virginia gets that kind of support at the end of a disappointing season remains to be seen. Holgorsen, though, isn't expecting anything but a great effort by his team in support of those 14 departing seniors.

It is a group that was largely recruited when Bill Stewart was the coach and the team was in the Big East. Over just the past four years they have endured a complete change in the coaching staff and the conference in which they play.

"There are 14 guys leaving us this year and I appreciate them,'' Holgorsen said. "They're a collection of guys that have been through a lot of adversity. They've been through coaching changes and conference changes and I appreciate everything they've gone through. I'm proud of how they're doing academically. They've all gotten their degree or are getting close to it.

"Our job as coaches and players is to go out and put our best foot forward. This year is different because there's not a bowl game, so this is the last week we will spend together. We have to make it count.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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