West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3) vs. NC State Wolfpack (8-4)
Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
West Virginia take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Second place feels pretty rotten for West Virginia.
The Mountaineers won a share of the Big East title and are the league's highest-ranked team. Yet they could only watch helplessly on the final night of the season as Connecticut beat South Florida to claim the Big East's BCS bid via tiebreaker.
While a 9-3 record and league co-championship sound nice, West Virginia had the potential for so much more. A senior-laden defense dominated all year, finishing second nationally in points allowed and third in yards yielded. But an October slide that included back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut doomed the Mountaineers to hoping for help. They were their own worst enemy, as quarterback Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the home loss to the Orange, and the team lost four fumbles -- including one at the goal line in overtime -- against the eventual champion Huskies.
Since that skid, though, West Virginia has lived up to its potential, winning four straight by an average of 20 points. The defense is strong enough to stop anybody, even NC State's electric quarterback Russell Wilson. The offense has finally started to click even though star tailback Noel Devine has been slowed by a foot injury.
The Mountaineers should represent the Big East well. If they can get over the disappointment of being No. 2.
The Wolfpack now have a chance to take yet another step forward and win a bowl game for the first time in O’Brien’s four seasons in Raleigh. NC State played in the Papajohns.com Bowl in his second season but lost to Rutgers, 29-23. NC State has struggled to run the ball this year, but quarterback Russell Wilson and the passing game have helped compensate for that. NC State is No. 19 in the country in passing offense, but turnovers and dropped passes have been a trend in each of the losses. That could be a problem against a West Virginia defense that ranks No. 11 in the country in pass defense and No. 2 in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 12.75 points per game.