MORGANTOWN - As careful as Bill Stewart is to point out that his West Virginia football team is in no position to take Saturday's home game with UNLV for granted, he is just as quick to point out that there is a balancing act involved.
That's because five days later - a week from Thursday - the Mountaineers begin the most important part of their schedule with the Big East opener at home against South Florida.
It's one thing not to overlook the task at hand, but it is quite another to ignore the practicality of the situation.
"Here's the thing. We've got to win this football game. That's our sole objective. That's our mission,'' Stewart said Tuesday of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against the 1-4 Rebels. "But the second thing is we've got another opponent, not in seven days but in five. And the crucial thing is that it's a league opponent.''
Stewart was specifically talking about the juggling act he faces in handling a handful of injured players, most notably tailback Noel Devine and guard Josh Jenkins, but the list also includes defensive ends Julian Miller and Will Clarke and linebacker Pat Lazear. While it might be nice - and perhaps necessary - to be able to play those guys against UNLV, the bigger picture is having them as close to 100 percent as possible for the USF game and the rest of the league season.
Therein rests the problem. Stewart and his staff must decide how much to use those players, knowing that if they simply sit them out it could create two problems - diminishing the prospects of a win over UNLV and perhaps even sending a message to the healthy players (by sitting others down) that they don't consider the four-touchdown underdog Rebels a serious threat.
If it's not handled correctly it could mean big problems for the Mountaineers.
"They've been beat by three Top 25 teams,'' Stewart said of the Rebels, who have lost to Wisconsin, Utah and Nevada, as well as Idaho. "Anyone who thinks we're going to skip out there Saturday and it's going to be a cakewalk, there's going to be a lot of heartache in Morgantown. And I hope our players understand that.''
All of which goes back to sending the right message while keeping in mind the short turn-around before the Big East opener five days later. Chances are, Stewart will play as many of his injured players as possible, but will also be careful about how much playing time they get.