West Virginia had high aspirations for this season. A Big East title and a 10-win season were on the agenda.
The Mountaineers can still reach both of those goals, with a twist. They will clinch at least a share of the Big East title by beating Rutgers on Saturday, but they won't be going to a BCS game unless Connecticut loses. So how would a 9-3 regular season without a BCS game reconcile with those preseason dreams?
"In that scenario, if it happens, we did win a Big East championship," nose tackle Chris Neild said. "We always try to go undefeated every season. But if we had a share of the Big East title, we'd be happy with that and go to a bowl game with high expectations that we could win."
A UConn victory could send No. 24 West Virginia to the Champs Sports Bowl, possibly against NC State. Officials from that game are said to be leaning toward the Mountaineers instead of 7-5 Notre Dame. But if they chose to take the Irish, West Virginia could fall down to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
First things first, however. The Mountaineers have to take care of Rutgers on Saturday. Nothing suggests that will pose much of a problem.
The Scarlet Knights have lost 15 straight to West Virginia, the longest active losing streak in Big East play. They are 0-16 all-time in Morgantown. That futile history is compounded by a putrid present. Rutgers has lost five straight games, the last two by a combined 48 points. The offensive line, worst in the nation in pass protection, will go up against one of the best defenses in the nation. A West Virginia offense that has started to take off in recent weeks should enjoy playing a team that has allowed 109 points its last two games.
Still, the Mountaineers are exercising caution, as the senior class that will be honored Saturday reminds the younger players about 2007, when a Pittsburgh team with a losing record spoiled Senior Night and a shot at the BCS title game.
"They don’t have anything to lose," fullback Ryan Clarke said of Rutgers. "They could possibly use this to come out and play their hardest game."
Assuming another year-end catastrophe does not strike, West Virginia should take care of business. Then, about four hours after the players have showered and gone home, they'll tune in to the Connecticut-South Florida game.
"If we don't handle our business, that game is meaningless to us," Neild said. "But if we need to watch it, I think a lot of us will have our eyes on game. It is tough to play down there [in Tampa]."
The Mountaineers will be hoping and praying the Bulls can help them out, knowing a nine-win season and Big East co-championship would be good. But a BCS game would be great.