West Virginia Mountaineers season recap

(Today, we're going to recap each Big East team's regular season. We're going in reverse alphabetical order this time, so we begin with West Virginia):

Reports of West Virginia's demise proved to be premature.

In early November, it looked like the Mountaineers had been passed in the Big East power structure by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. They were 7-3 with no signature wins and were lucky to escape against Connecticut and Louisville.

But it takes a lot to kill the king, and West Virginia got its act together in the closing weeks, battling Cincinnati to the wire, upsetting Pitt and winning (again) at Rutgers to finish in second place in the league. A 9-3 record and Gator Bowl berth are nothing to be ashamed about.

The Mountaineers did it with a first-year starting quarterback in Jarrett Brown, even though he was a fifth-year senior. They replaced nearly their entire offensive line from a year ago. And they played shorthanded at times on defense with injuries limiting such players as Reed Williams, Scooter Berry and Sidney Glover. This team wasn't great at any one thing, as it failed to rank in the Top 25 nationally in any major statistical category. But it had enough talent and winning DNA to put together another fine season in Morgantown.

Offensive MVP: Noel Devine. Although he was slowed late in the year with an ankle injury, Devine showed just how dangerous he can be every time he touches the ball with his 88-yard touchdown run against Pitt. He finished with 1,297 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on an impressive 5.8 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP: Chris Neild. The nose tackle helped hold the line together as Berry -- the only other experienced player up front -- missed lots of time. Neild was a bull in the middle and gave West Virginia the run stuffer its 3-3-5 defense needs.

Turning point: The 19-16 upset of Pitt in the season's penultimate game gave Bill Stewart the signature win he and his team had been looking for and suddenly brightened the outlook for the entire year. That it came at the expense of a hated rival was pretty sweet, too.

What's next: West Virginia will shoot for 10 wins in the Bobby Bowden Bowl, also known as the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. The best news for the Mountaineers is that they had only six senior starters. This is a team that will return the bulk of its roster next year, though Devine may well leave early for the NFL.