As late as Saturday night, West Virginia still seemed to have a chance to play in a BCS game. But when Connecticut got a 52-yard field goal from Dave Teggart in the final seconds to beat South Florida in Tampa, Fla., it gave the Huskies a share of the Big East championship along with WVU and Pitt.
The Huskies earned the league's automatic berth in the BCS because they beat both West Virginia and Pitt during the season.
The loss by West Virginia to the Huskies was particularly painful. The Mountaineers had the ball first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in overtime before fumbling and allowing UConn to kick the winning field goal. It was one of seven fumbles that night for WVU, which lost four of them.
A week earlier, the Mountaineers were intercepted three times in a 19-14 loss to Syracuse. Prior to those two turnover-fueled upsets, West Virginia was 5-1, ranked No. 20 and seemed in perfect position to win the Big East by merely meeting expectations.
Stewart said Sunday that he didn't expect to have any trouble getting his players up for a lesser bowl than the BCS. In fact, he said just the opposite.
"First of all, I see no disappointment whatsoever. I've already received some calls from my players and they're excited,'' Stewart said. "We are Big East champs, we are very proud of our 9-3 record, we're very much proud of the resolve our seniors and this football team have shown the last four weeks.''
This will be the third game between the teams in a bowl. The first two were Peach Bowls in Atlanta - a 49-13 Wolfpack rout in 1972 and a 13-10 WVU win in 1975.
The teams have played nine times total dating back to 1914. West Virginia leads the series 5-4. The last two meetings were Wolfpack wins in a home-and-home series in 1978 and 1979. Current WVU athletic director Oliver Luck was the starting quarterback on that 1979 team.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.