West Virginia is headed to the Discover Orange Bowl, which is great for the Mountaineers and the program. Three BCS appearances in the past six seasons is certainly something to be celebrated.
The question, of course, is whether the Big East is celebrating today at the home office in Providence, R.I. As you already know, the Big East is embroiled in a legal battle with the Mountaineers, who are set to leave the league for the Big 12. West Virginia wants to go in 2012; the Big East wants West Virginia to stay for the standard 27-month waiting period. Both have filed lawsuits against one another. Both have filed motions to have the lawsuits dismissed.
This, of course, presents an awkward situation.
Forget about the legal matter. The Big East saved face with the selection of West Virginia into the BCS. Had the scenario worked out differently, a 7-5 Louisville team could be representing the league in a BCS game, and that would have added extra fodder to the argument that the league does not deserve an automatic bid into the top postseason games. Especially on the heels of what happened with UConn last season.
The Mountaineers are 9-3 and ranked No. 23 -- the only ranked Big East team in the final BCS standings. Not many people are yelling as loudly today about the Big East getting an auto bid as they were two weeks ago when Louisville was a clear possibility. West Virginia is the league's best traveling bowl team, and fans are thrilled with the trip to South Florida. It is the first appearance for West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl and the first BCS appearance since the 2007 season, so one figures plenty of fans will make the trip.
The matchup is an intriguing one against Clemson, the ACC champion and a program with similar traditions and roots to West Virginia. You can bet on plenty of offense and some terrific play out of the skill positions, with standout players like Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The game features two ranked teams, and nobody expects West Virginia to get trounced the way UConn did last year in the Fiesta Bowl against a clearly superior opponent.
These two teams appear about as evenly matched as you can get. So all these should be pluses for the Big East, which has not seen a league team win its BCS game since West Virginia beat Oklahoma 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. In the three games since then, Big East teams have been outscored 119-51.
But the downside, of course, is that West Virginia is leaving the league. So the Big East has to promote a school with which it has an acrimonious relationship. From the league point of view, this is a flagship program that decided not to stay the course but jump a sinking ship, as athletic director Oliver Luck has noted.
The Big East may have preferred a Louisville team with a worse record because the Cardinals are not leaving -- at least for now. Cincinnati would have been good, too. The Bearcats have been to BCS games two of the past three years, and are not going anywhere. Though the results may not have been stellar in those BCS games, Cincinnati has a great turnaround story to tell. The Bearcats are going for their fourth 10-win season in the past five years. Cincinnati (46) is right behind West Virginia (47) for the most wins among Big East schools over the same time period.
It may hurt the Big East to see West Virginia in the game because of its ongoing dispute. But if this is indeed the Mountaineers' final game as members of the Big East, it is quite an appropriate send-off. They have won a record seven Big East championships and have been the best, most recognizable program since Miami left the league. West Virginia has done so much for the Big East, the league should give the program the proper hand-clap send-off before picking up the pieces and moving on.