Just as it did a year ago, West Virginia will go into its bowl game short-handed, with more than one key performer sidelined due to academic issues. But might those be offset by the return of another player that has played at less than peak efficiency for much of the season?

In the 2010 Gator Bowl, WVU was severely hampered by the absence of defensive lineman Scooter Berry and safety Nate Sowers. Florida State figured out that running wide to the side of the field that Berry typically manned was the path to victory. The Seminoles rang up 241 yards on the ground and scored 20 points in the second half for a 33-21 win.

The tactics that North Carolina State will employ to try to exploit West Virginia's absences in the Champs Sports Bowl might differ in tactics, but there's no doubt that the Wolfpack will take at least a few shots at West Virginia's depleted secondary. That's doesn't mean, however, that Mountaineer fans are doomed to a repeat of the Gator Bowl outcome. That's because WVU should be getting back a player who, while not a secret weapon, was certainly a limited one in 2010 – Noel Devine.

Devine's 2010 injury woes, while certainly not a secret, were soft-pedaled by the Mountaineer coaching staff, and understandably so. (WVU would probably have liked to keep the academic shortcomings of Joe Madsen, Josh Taylor and Eain Smith a secret as well, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see that happen in the future.) But that's not the point here – it's the fact that Devine, who was termed "as healthy as he's been since September" by one team source, could be the counter to those absences. Might Devine, who hasn't been a focal point of defensive game planning for many of West Virginia's foes this year, be the "surprise" star for the Mountaineers?

That the Fort Myers, Fla., native has the talent to do so is undeniable. Even with his injuries, he totaled 884 yards this year, and had a solid, if unspectacular, 4.4 yards per carry average, and every Mountaineer fan knows what he can do if given a seam that he can hit running north and south. It might be a bit strange to think of Devine in this sort of role, but against a Wolfpack defense that's certain to blitz heavily and try to disrupt West Virginia's passing game, what could be better than a couple of draw plays to find gaps in the N.C. State scheme?

This wouldn't be the first time that an under-the-radar running back made a big splash in a bowl game. (Yes, I understand the irony of tagging Devine with that label, but given his stats over the final month of the season, when he averaged just under 48 yards per game, he certainly can't be called a headliner.) Given that, might he follow in the footsteps of Eddie Williams, who gained 208 of his season total of 589 yards in the 1969 Peach Bowl finale against South Carolina? Or Scott McDonald, who snared five passes for 110 yards, including the game-winning 50-yard touchdown reception against this same North Carolina State team in the 1975 Peach Bowl? His totals for the entire year were 20 catches for 392 yards.

Obviously, there are some differences in this year's scenario, but Devine's ability to have a big impact on this game can't be overlooked. He might not be all the way back to 100%, but if he can make some of the cuts that West Virginia fans grew accustomed to seeing from him during the first three years of his career, he might well be able to counteract West Virginia's personnel losses for this game, and write a satisfying final chapter to his WVU career.

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