This week’s smorgasbord of West Virginia University news and notes …
- ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranks the Champs Sports Bowl matchup between West Virginia and NC State 15th among the 35 bowl games this year.
Wrote Schlabach, “The game features two teams that narrowly missed out on a chance to win their respective conferences. West Virginia was the Big East's highest-ranked team and won its last four games by an average of 20 points. NC State was headed to the ACC championship game until it lost at Maryland 38-31 in its regular-season finale.
West Virginia is making its ninth consecutive bowl appearance, tied with Boise State, Southern Mississippi and Wisconsin for the 11th longest streak in college football.
Here are the top FBS schools for consecutive bowl appearances:
Florida State, 29
Virginia Tech, 18
Georgia and Georgia Tech, 14
Boston College and Oklahoma, 12
LSU, Ohio State and Texas Tech, 11
West Virginia, Boise State, Southern Mississippi and Wisconsin, 9
Texas and Southern Cal had its long bowl streaks snapped this year.
- Speaking of bowl appearances, NC State is making just its fourth bowl trip since 2000. In 2008, Coach Tom O’Brien led the Wolfpack to the PapaJohns.com Bowl where they lost to Rutgers 29-23. Five years ago, State downed South Florida 14-0 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Coincidentally, State’s last three bowl appearances have been against Big East teams: Pitt in 2001, South Florida in 2005 and Rutgers in 2008. Overall, NC State is 12-11-1 in bowl games.
“Our team was excited when they found out they had the opportunity to come to Orlando and they are looking forward to the opportunity to play against a great West Virginia football team,” said O’Brien Wednesday. “We were picked in the bottom third of our conference and we made it up to the top third, so it’s a great accomplishment for our football team.”
- O’Brien made an interesting comment Wednesday during his stop in Orlando to promote the bowl game, “They’ve got good football players and great football coaches,” said O'Brien of WVU's nationally ranked defense.
That statement really captures the essence of West Virginia's defensive success.
O’Brien was part of the split when Boston College left the Big East to go to the ACC, so he understands the undercurrent involved whenever teams from these two conferences hook up on the playing field.
“I know there is always something a little special there, especially on the Big East side,” he said. “I think it has died down in four years but maybe we’ll find out if it has died as much as I think it has."
- If West Virginia can win its bowl game against NC State and remain in the Top 25, it will be the sixth consecutive year the Mountaineers have finished a season in the national rankings. No previous era in West Virginia football history has come close to the sustained success the program is presently enjoying.
- Chris Neild and Keith Tandy were named to the Rivals.com All-America third team, released yesterday.
- This year marks the first time since 2001 that West Virginia didn’t get at least one offensive player on the all-Big East first team. Since 2002, the Mountaineers have had 21 first-teamers, including a high of six in 2004.
- No football program in the Big East has come close to what West Virginia has done in the conference since 2002. During that time, the Mountaineers are 48-14 in league play, including a 15-6 record under Bill Stewart. West Virginia has not finished lower than second in the conference standings since 2002, and has had at least a 5-2 record each year.
However, a few missteps and a couple unlucky bounces of the ball have kept West Virginia from truly dominating the league the way Miami did in the early 1990s and Virginia Tech did in the late 1990s.
Just think back to these close calls … Kellen Winslow’s fourth-down catch at Miami in 2003, Greg Lee’s phantom reception at Pitt in 2004 (that ultimately led to the adoption of instant replay in the Big East), a George Selvie fumble return for a touchdown the provided the difference for USF in 2006, the infamous Pitt debacle in 2007, the overtime loss to Cincinnati at home and the failure to preserve an eight-point fourth quarter lead at Pitt in 2008, the questionable replay decision at Cincinnati in 2009, and this year’s Octoberfest against Syracuse and Connecticut.
Had those games turned out differently, West Virginia would have won the Big East outright in 2003, gone to a BCS game in 2004, owned at least a share of the conference title in 2006, won the league outright in 2007 and 2008, and would have taken the league’s BCS spot in 2009 with a head-to-head win over Cincinnati.
Therefore when you really get down to it, West Virginia was only out of one Big East football game during the last nine years – Boston College in 2004. That’s it.
That is how close West Virginia has come to really dominating this conference.
- West Virginia’s ninth-ranked women’s basketball team will have an interesting game tonight against Villanova. The Wildcats play a deliberate style, holding the ball at midcourt until the shot clock runs down before taking a shot. In Villanova’s last game against Fairfield, the two teams combined to score 25 first half points. The game ended with Villanova pulling out a 30-29 win.
That reminds me of the style Pitt coach Doc Carlson used to employ in the 1940s before the days of a shot clock. Against superior teams, he would order his Panther players to hold the ball at center court and not do anything for long stretches of time. Once during a game against Penn State, the Nittany Lion players were so disgusted with Carlson that they all stood underneath the basket with their hands on their hips while the crowd booed.
Carlson simply amused himself by tossing peanuts up into the crowd. At the end of the half, Pitt trailed Penn State 4-2.
- Former West Virginia women’s soccer standout Carolyn Blank signed a contract to play for Sky Blue FC of the Women’s Professional Soccer League. Blank played five games with the St. Louis Athletica before the team folded and also appeared in 13 games with the Atlanta Beat to complete her first professional season last year.
Blank was an all-Big East midfielder for the Mountaineers.
- Judging from the number of people lined up inside the Coliseum yesterday evening I would say West Virginia’s first-ever Men’s Basketball Ladies Night has to be considered a big success.
- It turned out to be a pretty good year for Mountaineer fall sports programs. Women’s soccer finished the year ranked 13th in the country, its highest ranking since finishing seventh in 2007; men’s soccer advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament; football made a return to the rankings; sophomore Katie Gillespie continued West Virginia’s streak of All-Americans in cross country and first-year coach Jill Kramer has reinvigorated the WVU volleyball program.
Furthermore, West Virginia had a fall sweep against Pitt. Football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball all bagged wins against the Panthers - and that’s always a nice thing.
- Basketball fans can take advantage of a holiday special for the Walsh exhibition game on Wednesday, Dec. 22. Tickets for that game are priced at just $5 and can only be purchased online through WVUGAME.com.
There are tickets still remaining for West Virginia’s Big East opener against St. John’s on Wednesday, Dec. 29. Single game tickets for all Big East games and West Virginia’s non-conference matchup against nationally ranked Purdue will go on sale, Monday, Dec. 20.
- Last night during the Illinois-Oakland men’s basketball game at Assembly Hall, the two teams played part of the first half with a women’s ball, which weighs less and is slightly smaller than the basketball the men use.
According to WVU’s veteran athletic equipment manager Bubba Schmidt, something like that occurring is not all that unusual.
“It would be hard for that to happen here because the men and women use different basketballs,” said Schmidt. “The women use a Nike ball and the men use a Spalding ball, but if both were using the same brand, yeah, I could see that happening.”
Well it did.
Oakland actually shot pretty well with the smaller ball, going 7 of 16 from the floor before the switch was made.
- And finally, great news! Milli Vanilli is making a comeback!
Wasn’t it Napoleon Dynamite who said everyone needs skillz? Well, Fab Morvan has definitely got skillz.
Have a great weekend!
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