Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Champs Sports Bowl: West Virginia (9-3) vs. NC State (8-4)
By Brian Bennett
The No. 2 bowl in the Big East pecking order is also the second-earliest bowl for the league. West Virginia gets back to action after a few weeks of wild coaching news. Here's a quick preview of Tuesday night's Champs Sports Bowl:
WHO TO WATCH: West Virginia running back Noel Devine. It's the final college game for Devine, who has amassed more than 4,000 rushing yards in his career. He hasn't been the same player this year ever since a foot injury against LSU, which was later exacerbated by an ankle problem in the Louisville game. But now he's had a few weeks to heal, and perhaps he's ready to deliver a fitting swan song. When he's right, there's no more explosive player in the country. If he's not himself, then the Mountaineers may turn to Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke for the bulk of the carries.
WHAT TO WATCH: West Virginia's defense versus NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. The Mountaineers had one of the best defenses in the country this year, not once allowing more than 21 points. That defense will be facing the best quarterback it has seen this year in the dangerous, multi-dimensional Wilson. Add to that the fact that top cornerback Brandon Hogan will miss the game with a torn ACL, and this is arguably the biggest challenge all season for this defense. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme and a ton of veterans have made West Virginia difficult for any quarterback to solve this year. It will be fun to watch how Wilson fares.
WHY WATCH: West Virginia is the highest-ranked team in the Big East, and many people think the Mountaineers would have made a better BCS representative for the league than Connecticut, to which they lost in overtime on the road. Here is their chance to prove it. It will also be the final game before Dana Holgorsen takes over as offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting, so this marks the end of an era in some ways. The Big East is looking for respect, and so its top-ranked team needs to take care of business against an ACC also-ran.
PREDICTION: This is a tough one because nobody knows exactly how much of a distraction the coaching situation was for this team. Hogan's loss hurts, too. I think Wilson will help NC State exploit West Virginia's defense more than any other team all season, but in the end Geno Smith and the Mountaineers make one more play. Give me West Virginia by a field goal, 26-23.