FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It was back in 2006 when an upstart coach named Rich Rodriguez took West Virginia to the Georgia Dome.
He made a name for himself. Put WVU in college football's national spotlight.
Today, first-year coach Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia have a similar opportunity against Clemson in the 8 p.m. Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium - with a twist. That twist is pulling off this upset shouldn't be as difficult.
Winning certainly won't be easy. And if you predict WVU will get blown out, no one will laugh. Clemson won the Atlantic Coast Conference in style, defeating Sugar Bowl participant Virginia Tech by 38-10. The Tigers, in fact, beat the Hokies twice this season, also winning 23-3. They also defeated teams like Auburn, last season's national champ, and Florida State. Have an impressive resume and impressive athletes.
But so did Georgia in 2006. The Southeastern Conference champion Bulldogs were playing in, basically, their backyard. They'd won seven of their last eight bowls. WVU had lost 11 of its last 12. And there's this: Georgia was a 14-point favorite; Clemson is a 3 1/2-point favorite.
Yet that upstart WVU coach won. And this upstart coach has a similar opportunity.
On Tuesday, the eve of the Orange Bowl, Holgorsen sounded ready.
"[Clemson is] extremely talented," said the Mountaineer coach. "I mean, I was watching from afar, which two months ago, who knew West Virginia and Clemson was going to play? ... They were on a roll, and everybody was taking notice of them. Tajh Boyd is a heck of a quarterback, and Sammy Watkins is a heck of a receiver, and then they've got Andre Ellington, their running back, a 1,000-yard guy. They've got guys offensively that are players.
"Shoot, that's going to be a challenge for us defensively to stop that. But part of the challenge that exists in a football game of this magnitude is you're going to play a quality opponent. And when you overcome as much adversity as we did throughout the year, and figure out ways to win, that taught us some lessons."
We'll see how well those lessons were learned tonight.
My take? There are many keys. A glaring one is how well WVU's offensive front handles the defensive front of Clemson, especially Tigers nose guard
Brandon Thompson, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound standout.
"No. 98," said WVU center Joe Madsen. "That's all I've been thinking about."
Madsen gets it.
"He's got real long arms," Madsen said. "He's powerful. He sometimes gets high [out of his stance]. We've seen that, so we'll try to focus on that. Just a big strong guy, so ..."
So, it presents a big problem. Madsen said he has a plan.
"Be stronger than him," said the 6-4, 300-pound junior. "Give more effort and finish. When he's going to give up, I'm not going to give up."
It's a concern, though, in this game. The whole Mountaineer line will be tested.
"I think we're average, at best," Madsen said of that line. "In some games we perform better than any in the nation. And in some, we kind of let it go. We need to find the level we need to be at."
There's been effort to do so.
"We've had a lot of sit-down talks, especially this week," Madsen said. "We've gone to dinner and talked about how we need to dominate. Give the best we can give."
Appropriately, the linemen went to Fort Lauderdale restaurant The Knife for the dinner. Appropriate, it is, because they'll have to be sharp.