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.''