Perhaps he should be careful of what he wishes for. ">
Perhaps he should be careful of what he wishes for. ">

Big East Report

<b>BOSTON COLLEGE</b><br><br> Boston College coach Tom O'Brien is hoping the large number of BC alumni in the San Francisco Bay area will turn his team's appearance in the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl into a "home" game.<br><br> Perhaps he should be careful of what he wishes for.

The Eagles were 5-1 on the road in 2003, closing with a victory at Virginia Tech that earned them a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. They struggled at home, going 2-6, with the only victories over Ball State and Notre Dame. In fact, they lost their last two at home -- against Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

The Eagles have picked up some All-Big East honors since the season ended. OGs Augie Hoffmann and Chris Snee garnered all-conference first-team honors on offense and sophomore DE Mathias Kiwanuka earned a spot on the first-team defense.

BC has had an offensive lineman earn first-team all-Big East recognition in nine of the past 10 years.

Game of the Year
Boston College 34, Virginia Tech 27 - The Eagles entered the season never having beaten Big East powers Miami and Virginia Tech under coach Tom O'Brien. That streak was extended when the Eagles lost to Miami early on, but it came to an end when they beat the Hokies in the season finale. BC got 197 yards rushing out of Derrick Knight but needed a 64-yard pass play from QB Paul Peterson to WR Grant Adams for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The victory at Blacksburg ended a seven-game losing streak to Tech.

Boston College vs. Colorado State, Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 31

Matchup to Watch
RB Derrick Knight vs. LB Drew Wood -- To win the San Francisco Bowl, Colorado State is going to have to stop Knight, who has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Wood is only third on the team in tackles, but is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (11). Holding Knight in check will allow Colorado State to pressure QB Paul Peterson. BC's gone 14-3 over the past two years when Knight rushes for 100 yards or more. When he tops 150, the Eagles are 8-0.

Players to Watch
RB Derrick Knight - The senior has rushed for 3,031 yards in the past two seasons, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

QB Paul Peterson - After sharing time with Quinton Porter early in the season, Peterson took over the starting job in the last month of the regular season when Porter was injured. Peterson threw for 1,764 yards and 14 touchdowns on 140-for-250 passing. He was intercepted only six times.

LB Josh Ott - The steady senior made his big splash in 2002 when his interception return for a touchdown led to the upset of Notre Dame. He had another solid season in 2003, leading the team in tackles with 118, and picking off another pass.

CB Will Blackmon - The sophomore led the Eagles with three interceptions, and he also is a game-breaker on special teams. He averaged just under 25 yards per kickoff return with a long of 52. He also can return punts and had a 22-yarder among his seven punt returns.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka - The sophomore ended the regular season as the Big East sack leader with 10.5.

Pro Potential
OG Chris Snee - The junior is rated near the top of guard candidates for the 2004 draft, and would be a preseason All-American if he decided to return.

OG Augie Hoffmann - He has had some injury problems, but there's a reason BC has been able to produce six consecutive 1,000-yard rushers, and this 6-2, 305-pound senior is one of them. Not nearly as highly rated as Snee, however.

LB Josh Ott - He has good quickness and should get a look from someone because of his big-play capability.

TE Sean Ryan - As you would expect from a BC guy, he's a blue-collar blocker who is a bit of an old-time TE prospect. That's not to say he can't catch, but he doesn't have great speed or hands, but he could certainly fill a valuable role as a later-round selection.

Injury Update
QB Quinton Porter (hand) missed most of the last month of the season, but Paul Peterson pretty much has wrapped up the starting job with his closing performance.

Quote to Note
"This team believed in itself." - Coach Tom O'Brien, in the Boston Herald, noting how the Eagles rallied from a 22-13 deficit at Rutgers to win that game and the finale at Virginia Tech to earn a bowl bid.

MIAMI

With the prospect of playing Florida State for the second time this season and looking ahead to yet another clash with the Seminoles in the 2004 opener, you might think Miami would lack for motivation in the Orange Bowl matchup.

You would think wrong ... thanks to the oddsmakers.

Despite having beaten Seminoles 22-14 in October in a game in which they were much more dominant than the final score, the Hurricanes go into the Orange Bowl as slight underdogs.

Of course, oddsmakers are more concerned with evening up betting money on each side and not necessarily with establishing a true difference between teams ... but teams will take motivation wherever it can find it. Adding to the Miami fire are the BCS rankings that place the Hurricanes in ninth, two spots behind Florida State. The Associated Press and coaches polls rank the Hurricanes 10th and ninth, respectively, while the Seminoles are a spot ahead in each poll. This is the kind of thing that has gotten Miami players fired up in the past.

In addition, two Hurricane players will have extra incentive. Though he was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, FS Sean Taylor was passed up for the Thorpe Award that goes to the nation's best defensive back. Oklahoma's Derrick Strait won it. The fact that the presenting association is based in Oklahoma got a lot of attention among Miami fans.

Also, LB Jonathan Vilma was a finalist for the Butkus Award that went to Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman.

On the other hand, TE Kellen Winslow did receive the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end.

Game of the Year
Miami 28, Pittsburgh 14 - Some observers were beginning to doubt the Hurricanes after they lost two in a row and then beat Syracuse by only 17-10 at home. Pittsburgh held home-field advantage and knew a share of the Big East title and BCS bowl bid was within its grasp. But the Hurricanes dominated both sides of the ball. They ran off four consecutive touchdowns after giving up an early score, rushing for 280 yards and holding the Panthers to only a net 26 on the ground. They also held Pittsburgh WR Larry Fitzgerald to only three catches, including a meaningless late touchdown.

Miami vs. Florida State, Orange Bowl, Miami, Fla., Jan. 1

Matchup to Watch
FS Sean Taylor vs. QB Chris Rix - Taylor picked off Rix twice in the first meeting and is looking to show Thorpe Award presenters they made a mistake when they didn't give their trophy to him.

Players to Watch
TE Kellen Winslow - He has a knack for coming up big in key games and against Florida State. In the last two meetings, he has caught 13 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown.

RB Tyrone Moss - Though senior Jarrett Payton will get the start, this true freshman came on strong late in the season to give Miami more punch in the backfield.

FS Sean Taylor - He can give you big hits and big picks. Among his nine interceptions were two against the Seminoles, including one returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

Pro Potential
FS Sean Taylor - Pro scouts love his size (6-3, 235) and hitting ability. He is one of at least three juniors expected to pass up their senior seasons at Miami.

DT Vince Wilfork - Most rated him a first-round NFL pick as a sophomore last year. He did little to diminish that status in 2003 and is expected to enter the draft next spring.

TE Kellen Winslow - He is the third of a trio of juniors expected to enter the draft and likely will be a first-round pick.

LB Jonathan Vilma - He led Miami with 11 tackles for negative yardage among his team-best 118 stops. At 6-2, 223 he could be considered small, but he has exceptional quickness and can play from sideline to sideline.

LB D.J. Williams - Some observers thought he didn't make a big enough splash in 2003, but he was as solid as they come. His 77 tackles were second only to leader Vilma's 118.

CB Antrel Rolle - Another junior who might enter the draft, but he looks to be returning for his senior season. At this point, he's not quite among the elite CBs in the nation, but he's getting closer.

OT Carlos Joseph - He has the size (6-6, 307) but has been inconsistent through the season. Nevertheless, he has plenty of upside and could go in the third round or so depending on workouts.

Injury Update
DTs Orien Harris (knee) and Santonio Thomas (ankle) figure to be 100 percent by the bowl game. Both returned in late November.

Quote to Note
"I'm not a fan of rematches. We had the same thing happen with the Big Eight with Nebraska and Oklahoma (Jan. 1, 1979), so I'm not a fan of that. What I am a fan of is we're playing in a great bowl." - Coach Larry Coker, on the rematch with Florida State in the Orange Bowl game.

RUTGERS

Give third-year coach Greg Schiano some kudos for reviving the left-for-dead Rutgers program.

A season-ending 24-7 victory over Syracuse allowed the Scarlet Knights to finish its best season in five years with a 5-7 mark, including two wins in Big East play. And with almost 90 players expected back next fall and with league powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech gone, there's actually bowl talk in New Brunswick, N.J.

"I'm excited about the fact that we are now a legitimate Division I football program, and now we have to take the next step," Schiano said. "That's the most important thing, because reaching legitimacy certainly isn't our goal. But it's a step along the way."

There are many reasons to believe that there will be more steps forward in 2004.

For one thing, Miami and Virginia Tech -- two teams that absolutely owned the Scarlet Knights -- are out of the league and off the schedule. And secondly, Rutgers' two-deep was littered with underclassmen -- including a record-setting quarterback in sophomore Ryan Hart, two capable runners in redshirt freshman Brian Leonard and true freshman Justise Hairston, some capable receivers and a promising young group of linebackers.

Game of the Year
The season-ending 24-7 victory over Syracuse was an important win for the program for a number of reasons. It pushed Rutgers' final record to 5-7, a far cry from the 1-11 season in 2002. The win also came over a Syracuse program that has had a great deal of success recruiting in New Jersey. And it capped a feel-good season that should have the players working harder than ever in the offseason and buying into whatever coach Greg Schiano has to say.

Player of the Year
Redshirt freshman running back Brian Leonard gave Rutgers something it hasn't had in ages - a ground game. Leonard finished the season as Rutgers' leader in rushing yards (880) and in receptions (53 for 488 yards), amassing 1,368 all-purpose yards. He also scored 14 touchdowns.

Rapid Review
The season started with a great deal of promise as the Scarlet Knights got off to a 3-1 start. However, the bowl talk quickly cooled as Rutgers lost six of its next seven games, with its lone win coming over hapless Temple. Rutgers was in most of the games during that stretch, notably blowing fourth-quarter leads to UConn and Boston College. The 24-7 win in season finale against Syracuse allowed Rutgers to finish at 5-7, a clear signal that the Scarlet Knights are indeed much better than the squad that posted a 1-11 mark in 2002.

Fast Forward
There's legitimate 2004 bowl buzz in the Garden State for the first time in eons. The Scarlet Knights' offense, a unit that that took giant steps forward in 2003 under new coordinator Craig Ver Steeg, should continue to get better next fall with the return of junior quarterback Ryan Hart, two good, young runners in Brian Leonard and Justise Hairston, both of the team's best wideouts, and three-fifths of the offensive line (if injured left guard Brian Duffy is granted a sixth year of eligibility).

The defense still struggled to stop opposing ground games, but there are reasons to smile about the future of this unit too. Strong safety Jarvis Johnson, the team's top tackler, will be back for his senior season, while Rutgers' linebacking corps has tons of upside as sophomore Will Gilkison and true freshman Devraun Thompson learned on the job in 2003.

Plus, Rutgers has an easier schedule in 2004, thanks to the defections of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC. Rutgers' schedule tentatively will feature league games against Boston College, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Temple and West Virginia. The nonconference list includes Kent State, Michigan State, Navy, New Hampshire and Vanderbilt.

Players to Watch in 2004
Quarterback Ryan Hart - As a sophomore, Hart set single-season school records for passing yards (2,714), completions (234) and attempts (398). He tied the school's interception record (19), but seems to be well suited to run the Scarlet Knights' West-Coast offense. Hart (15 TD passes) should really blossom next season with most of his key weapons back.

Running backs Brian Leonard and Justise Hairston - A poor man's Mike Alstott, Leonard was one of the Big East's best newcomers this fall - emerging as a threat as both a between-the-tackles runner and as a pass receiver. He led the team in rushing yards (880), pass receptions (53) and touchdowns (14). The scary part is that he'll be teamed next season with speedy tailback Justise Hairston (550 yards rushing, 8 TDs), who missed four games with a knee injury. Leonard and Hairston could be quite a duo the next few seasons in New Brunswick.

Quote to Note
"Certainly, I'm excited about the fact that there are greater expectations. If there weren't, that would mean we really are struggling right now." -Third-year Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, after this season's 5-7 record.

SYRACUSE

A late-season collapse put Paul Pasqualoni's coach job in jeopardy, but six days after the closing victory over Notre Dame, Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel stepped up to the podium and announced Pasqualoni would be back for his 14th season.

Pasqualoni's task: Get the Orangemen back in a bowl and get the offense moving.

Crouthamel made it clear in his announcement that Pasqualoni, who directed most of his attention to the defense the last two seasons, would be shouldering the responsibilities of offensive coordinator, leaving coordinator George DeLeone responsible for the offensive line. DeLeone also will concentrate on recruiting duties.

"Paul is going to be more immersed on the offensive side," Crouthamel said. "His time and effort is going to be spent on the offensive side of the ball."

After the regular season, the Orangemen ranked near the bottom of the Big East in offensive statistics, placing sixth in total offense in the eight-team league (369.8 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (26.7 points per game).

The biggest problem in the past two seasons, which saw the Orangemen go 4-8 in 2002 and 6-6 in 2003, has been their inability to win outdoors. Playing in the Carrier Dome, the Orangemen are 8-5 over the past two seasons. On the road they are 2-9. They have averaged 34 points a game at home over that span, only 20 on the road.

Game of the Year
Coming off a 17-point loss at Rutgers and riding a three-game losing streak, the Orangemen finished the season with their most impressive performance of recent years, dominating Notre Dame 38-12. There were a couple of hiccups along the way in the form of QB R.J. Anderson's three interceptions, but the Syracuse defense held the Irish in check. Offensively, RB Walter Reyes led the way with 189 yards and five touchdowns rushing. His 71-yard run after Notre Dame had closed to within 24-12 clinched the game.

Player of the Year
RB Walter Reyes set school records for rushing touchdowns, both for a single-season (20) and career (38). He finished the season with 1,347 yards, fourth best in the Big East. His average of 112.25 per game ranked 15th among Division I-A runners.

Rapid Review
Following a 41-17 victory over Temple in early November, the Orangemen seemingly had a bowl game within their grasp before hitting a three-game skid. It started with a 17-10 loss at Miami in which they led 10-7 going into the final 15 minutes. They were tied at the half with West Virginia before losing 34-23, and were embarrassed in a 24-7 thumping at Rutgers. The Orangemen's 38-12 rout of Notre Dame in the finale put them at .500 for the season at 6-6.

Fast Forward
The best news is Reyes returns to the backfield, where he should be rejoined by RB Damien Rhodes. Rhodes rushed for 568 yards as a true freshman in 2002 but was hobbled by injuries and got little playing time in 2003. The defense showed improvement but now must find some replacements for key performers like DTs Louis Gachelin and Christian Ferrara and LB Rich Scanlon.

Players to Watch in 2004
RB Walter Reyes - He put a lot of Syracuse fans' concerns to rest when he said right after the Notre Dame victory he would return for 2004. After rushing for 1,135 yards as a sophomore, he broke loose for 1,347 in 2003. In addition to his rushing totals, he also caught 38 passes for 375 yards, second best on the team to WR Johnnie Morant.

WR Jared Jones - The junior will be the top returning wideout after catching 37 passes 355 yards in 2003. An ankle injury sidelined him much of the Notre Dame game or he might have ended up second on the team in receptions behind leader Morant, a senior.

Quote to Note
"I think that in every season and every game, there is pressure, what you are considering to be pressure. I think there is a lot pressure that players and coaches self-induce upon themselves in the program. I think we all have very high expectations." - Coach Paul Pasqualoni, asked if he feels under pressure looking to the 2004 season.

TEMPLE

Temple's miserable season came to a predictable end as the Owls lost to West Virginia, 45-28.

The loss dropped Temple to 1-11 overall and 0-7 in Big East play, the 13th straight losing season for the Owls, who won four games in each of the three previous years. The last time they only won once was 1996. They're 17-51 in six seasons under Bobby Wallace.

The season-ending loss followed a familiar script as the Owls fell behind big early, 21-0 in the first quarter, and then tried to play comeback ball. It didn't work despite all the practice the Owls had at in 2003.

They trailed 21-0 at Louisville, 27-0 to Boston College, 27-0 to Rutgers, 17-0 to Virginia Tech, 14-0 to Pitt, 24-0 at Syracuse and 14-0 at Middle Tennessee ... which was the only game they wound up winning, 46-38.

An even more painful loss will happen after the 2004 season as Temple will lose its conference affiliation with the Big East after next season.

So what's next? According to Wallace, Temple is building an independent schedule for 2005 and hopes to latch on to another league after that.

But the Owls will need wins to get a league invite. That won't be easy, because in 2005, the Owls are scheduled to play host to Miami, Maryland, Toledo and Middle Tennessee. They're talking with Louisville and Navy, and they'll travel to Arizona State and Bowling Green the year after next.

Game of the Year
Temple 46, Middle Tennessee 38 - The Owls tasted victory just once in 12 tries, so the team's lone victory qualifies as the game of the year. Down 14-0, Temple scored 41 unanswered points and then held off a late and furious Middle Tennessee charge to win the game.

Player of the Year
Sophomore LB Rian Wallace - It was probably hard for a lot of people to notice him on a team that surrendered 32.8 points per game, but Wallace was one of the best linebackers in the Big East. He finished the season with 148 tackles, including an incredible 19.5 tackles for loss.

Rapid Review
Temple played very well in the first four weeks of the season, but had nothing to show for it but close losses to Penn State (23-10), Villanova (23-20 in two OTs), Cincinnati (30-24 in three OTs) and Louisville (21-12). The Villanova and Cincinnati losses were particularly painful as Temple kicker Jared Davis missed multiple field goals that would have won those games. After that, Temple picked up its only win of the season in a 46-38 shootout over Middle Tennessee to improve to 1-4. From there, Temple dropped seven straight Big East games to finish with a 1-11 mark. The only game the Owls had a chance in was a 24-23 overtime loss to nationally ranked Virginia Tech, a game that ended in the first overtime after Davis (are you sensing a pattern here?) missed an extra point.

Fast Forward
Unless something changes, next season will be the Owls' last in the Big East. Right now, they are planning on playing as an independent in 2005, a situation that makes Bobby Wallace's job even harder - if that's possible.

On the bright side, Temple has found itself a quarterback in Walter Washington, a JUCO import with two years of eligibility remaining. Washington finished the season with a team-best 579 yards rushing, while throwing for 1,265 yards and eight scores. He'll team with returning wideout Phil Goodman (47 receptions, 678 yards, 5 TDs) to give Temple some weapons on offense. However, the Owls' running game and defense were subpar this fall -- something that wasn't the case the previous two seasons when players like tailback Tanardo Sharps (the school's second all-time leading rusher) and superb defensive tackle Dan Klecko (now a rookie with the New England Patriots) were stalwarts.

Temple's 2004 nonconference schedule includes trips to Oregon State, Maryland and Toledo, with Bowling Green and Buffalo coming to Philly.

Players to Watch in 2004
QB Walter Washington - Late in the season, Temple coach Bobby Wallace replaced struggling and banged-up Mike McGann with the powerfully built Washington (6-2, 245). He led the Owls in rushing (579 yards, six TDs) and also passed for 1,265 yards with eight TDs and six interceptions. His throwing needs to improve, but Washington is a talent. He chose Temple over Nebraska because he wanted to play in a pass-oriented offense.

"We've played against Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick while I've been here at Temple and Walter Washington has the same type of athleticism as those two guys. He's not as fast as Michael Vick, but he can hurt defenses with his arm and his feet," Wallace said.

LB Rian Wallace - Temple's porous "D" (32.8 ppg allowed) needs a leader to help them turn things around in 2004 and the hitting machine Wallace seems like a good candidate. Still a work in progress, Wallace finished the season with 148 tackles, including an incredible 19.5 tackles for loss. Those totals put him among the nation's leaders in those categories.

Quote to Note
"Do you how hard it is to recruit when you have a black mark next to you that you've been kicked out of your league? Everybody knows that the Big East is kicking us out of the league. That's tough to overcome and as a result, we end up signing kids with no other Division I offers." - Temple coach Bobby Wallace when asked how hard it is to recruit at Temple, given the fact that they'll be booted out of the Big East after the 2004 season.

VIRGINIA TECH

Following the season-ending loss to Virginia, coach Frank Beamer said he would have to take a close look at what has become a nagging problem for his Hokies: late-season collapses.

After a 6-0 start, the Hokies finished the 2003 regular season at 8-4.

In 2002, the Hokies were 8-0 but finished 10-4.

In 2001, Virginia Tech lost three of its last five games (and then lost a bowl game) to mar a season that started with a 6-0 record.

Bud Foster, Beamer's defensive coordinator, has a theory regarding the latest slump. The Hokies have become selfish, he said.

"I think there are some people who think of themselves rather than the team," Foster said at a media gathering to talk about Tech's Insight Bowl match against California on Dec. 26.

Foster named no names, but he did give some examples. The problems are on both sides of the ball.

"It's just being offsides on either side of the ball that builds a drive or sustains a drive," Foster said. "That was a big momentum change in the Virginia game. We blocked a punt return and we were offsides, then we return a punt and we hit a kid right directly in the back. Those are things that kill you. They're killers. We've just got to be better than that. We really do."

Many players agreed with Foster's blunt assessment.

"We've had some things go on this year, and I think everybody within the team knows it," said QB Bryan Randall. "Sometimes you do have some selfish players commit selfish acts. You really can't have that if you want to be a good team."

Randall also denied a newspaper report that he was thinking of transferring.

Game of the Year
Virginia Tech 31, Miami 7 - The Hokies were coming off a disappointing 28-7 loss to West Virginia when they played host to the Hurricanes. They took an early lead when CB DeAngelo Hall ripped the ball from WR Roscoe Parrish's hands and returned it for a touchdown, then dodged a bullet when Miami TE Kevin Everett dropped a tying touchdown pass in the end zone. The second half belonged to the Hokies, who scored three touchdowns in the third quarter, including a 51-yard interception return by Eric Green and a 46-yard touchdown pass from QB Marcus Vick to WR Ernest Wilford.

Virginia Tech vs. California, Insight Bowl, Phoenix, Ariz., Dec. 26

Matchup to Watch
CB Eric Green vs. WR Geoff McArthur - Green stepped into a starting role when Garnell Wilds was injured. He will face a challenge from McArthur, who had one of the best seasons of any Pacific-10 receiver with 1,504 yards on 85 catches. He had 16 receptions for 245 yards against Stanford in the season finale. Green led Tech with three interceptions.

Players to Watch
RB Kevin Jones - The all-Big East performer will make his final collegiate appearance in the Insight Bowl. He plans to enter the NFL draft after rushing for 1,494 yards in his junior season, giving him 3,322 for his career.

CB-WR DeAngelo Hall - He became a two-way performer this season in addition to handling special teams duties. He had one interception and made first team all-Big East on defense. On offense, he had seven catches for 86 yards (one touchdown) and two runs for 21 more (one touchdown). He averaged 14.5 yards per try on 30 punt returns, including two for touchdowns.

QB Bryan Randall - Some wondered if the junior would hold off a challenge from redshirt freshman Marcus Vick, and though there were times when it looked as if Vick would move into the position, Randall was the starter at the end. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 1,598 yards and was Tech's second-leading rusher with a net 412 yards on the ground.

Pro Potential
RB Kevin Jones - He'll be a high first-round pick no matter what he does in his bowl appearance.

C Jake Grove - The Rimington Award winner as the nation's top center, Grove has been a rock in the middle of the Hokies' line. At 6-3, 300, he has the size and strength to do the same in the NFL.

WR Ernest Wilford - At 6-4, he has the great height for a wideout. He had 47 catches in 2003, giving him 98 over the last two seasons in Tech's run-oriented attack.

Injury Update
CB Garnell Wilds is the only Hokie likely to miss the bowl game.

Quote to Note
"Right now it's just stay where we are. I think Marcus needs to be in the game more, though. Every time it seemed like he was in the game against Virginia, something good was happening. Now whether he's at quarterback or not, let the game dictate that." - Coach Frank Beamer, in the Roanoke Times, as to his bowl-game plan for QBs Bryan Randall and Marcus Vick.

WEST VIRGINIA

Miami-Florida State gets most of the attention, but it isn't the only bowl that will feature a rematch of a regular-season game.

West Virginia will take on Maryland in the Toyota Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 with an eye toward avenging a 34-7 thumping in a game played on the Terrapins' turf in September.

After being passed over for Notre Dame by Gator officials last year when they finished second in the Big East, the Mountaineers earned their berth this season by finishing with a seven-game winning streak and capturing a share of the Big East title.

That earned Rich Rodriguez conference Coach of the Year honors in just his third season at his alma mater. In addition, WR Chris Henry earned Rookie of the Year recognition.

Henry was second in the conference with 10 touchdown catches and 87 receptions. After a 3-8 record in his first season, Rodriguez has improved to 20-16 at the West Virginia helm.

To win the bowl game, West Virginia will have to avoid the kind of start it had in the previous meeting against Maryland. The Mountaineers trailed 20-0 at the half and didn't score until getting a late touchdown from backup RB Kay-Jay Harris. The Mountaineers, who averaged 217.2 yards on the ground for the season, rushed for only 120 against the Terps.

Game of the Year
NOTES, QUOTES West Virginia 52, Pittsburgh 31 - While many looked at the looming Pittsburgh-Miami season-ender as the game that would decide the Big East, West Virginia stamped itself a legitimate contender by pounding the Panthers. RB Quincy Wilson led a punishing ground game by rushing for 208 yards and four touchdowns. QB Rasheed Marshall was 14-for-25 passing for 216 yards and two scores as the Mountaineers broke away from a 24-24 halftime tie. The victory was the Mountaineers' fifth in a row after their 1-4 start.

West Virginia vs. Maryland, Toyota Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1

Matchup to Watch
LB Grant Wiley vs. QB Scott O'Brien - O'Brien pretty much had his way against West Virginia in the first meeting, a 34-7 Terps' victory. He threw for 220 yards and a touchdown and had a 43-yard run to set up another TD. Wiley will need to lead the way to step up the pressure on O'Brien, who started his collegiate career at West Virginia.

Players to Watch
RB Quincy Wilson - He stepped in for the departed Avon Cobourne, and the Mountaineers hardly missed a beat. Wilson ran for 1,331 yards and a dozen touchdowns, plus he caught 13 passes for another 100 yards and a TD.

QB Rasheed Marshall - He completed less than half his passes (99-for-199) but still came up with some big plays to keep opposing defenses off-balance. He had a 93-yard touchdown pass to WR Travis Garvin and an 83-yarder to WR Chris Henry.

LB Grant Wiley -- With only four starters returning defensively and three of those in the secondary, Wiley had to step up for the Mountaineers, and he did. He had 158 tackles on the season, including 14 for negative yardage. He also had two interceptions and forced seven fumbles.

WR Chris Henry - The Big East's Rookie of the Year, Henry led the Moutaineers with 38 catches good for 960 yards and 10 touchdowns. His first three catches of the year went for touchdowns, and he caught 31 passes for 805 yards and seven TDs over West Virginia's last seven games.

Pro Potential
Grant Wiley - At 6-1, 230, he may be on the small side these days, but his performance could get him a look.

Injury Impact
The Mountaineers appear in good shape as their bowl preparations begin.

Quote to Note
"It's a rivalry game. You ask West Virginia and Maryland kids, and they know it's going to be a hard-hitting football game. We have tremendous respect for their program, and after the Gator Bowl, we're going to play them next year up in Morgantown. We could play this game 11 times a year and it would still be a tough football game." - Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, looking to the bowl game against the Mountaineers.

PITTSBURGH


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