Like the Big East race, our regular season prediction contest comes down to the wire.
PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'
Patrick extended his lead by missing the final score of the Backyard Brawl by just seven points. Jane matched that feat, and again took a leap up in the standings. She could finish atop the pack that currently stands at 8-3 with another good week. Andy's eight-point differential in the Pitt game kept him comfortably ahead in the cellar race.
Beating Bill up week after week is kind of like playing Florida Atlantic. So, in that vein, we note that Matt missed the Pitt score by more points than anyone else on the panel...outside of Bill.
|Patrick Southern||Last Week: W||Season: 9-2||Pt Diff: 195|
There should be no lack of motivation on either sideline for this one. West Virginia would earn a share of the Big East championship with a win (and still have a shot at a BCS bowl berth), while the Bulls need a victory to become bowl eligible. But the Mountaineers have struggled in Tampa, with USF winning both of the last two meetings there. Even WVU's 2005 win at Raymond James Stadium was a relatively tight win -- one that may not have happened at all if not for Pat White's heroics.
Beyond the intangibles, the upper hand in terms of Xs and Os could be based on just who plays for USF. Receiver Sterling Griffin's possible return from injury could be every bit as significant as quarterback B.J. Daniels' status. Griffin would be a significant weapon for either Daniels or Bobby Eveld. With the receiver, the Bulls are a much more dangerous team. But West Virginia appears to be coming together at the right moment.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-20|
|Tony Dobies||Last Week: W||Season: 9-2||Pt Diff: 220|
A week ago, I thought West Virginia would beat Pittsburgh and lose to
South Florida. While I still believe there's a chance the Mountaineers
lose to the Bulls, it's not likely.
Despite so many issues offensively and defensively throughout the year, the Mountaineers still find themselves with a shot at a BCS bowl bid. With that being the case, there's no chance that West Virginia struggles on Thursday.
Sure, there might be mistakes and surely WVU won't play perfectly and will probably still start slow. That's just the dynamic of this team for some reason. But, the Mountaineers are improving each week - whether or not it shows - and I think this is the time West Virginia puts it all together.
|Pick: West Virginia 30-20|
|Cam Huffman||Last Week: W||Season: 8-3||Pt Diff: 191|
West Virginia has some negatives going against it in this one. It
hasn't exactly played great on weeknights, and trips to South Florida
have been turned to disaster in the past. This may be able between a
team at the top of the Big East and a team at the bottom, but let's be
honest, that has meant very little this year. Syracuse is also one of
the teams at the bottom, and the Orange destroyed the Mountaineers
earlier this year -- on a week night and on the road. Even WVU's wins --
a last-second field goal blocked at Cincinnati, a one-point victory
over Pitt and a late rally against Rutgers -- proved just how close
this conference is.
So a Mountaineer loss in this one wouldn't surprise me -- and, assuming everybody else is going to go with WVU, picking the Bulls may be my best bet to get back at the top in this competition. But I'm not going to use strategy, I'll give my honest opinion. Although the Mountaineers aren't exactly playing great at this point, they are playing with a lot of confidence, and they have a great deal on the line. The defense has come around enough that I think it will make some plays against a USF offense struggling to find its way. That should give Holgorsen's offense a chance to make enough plays to come away with a victory.
This one will come down to the end once again, but WVU will come out on top.
|Pick: West Virginia 26-22|
|Chris Richardson||Last Week: W||Season: 8-3||Pt Diff: 203|
I've got a bad feeling about this one folks. Not sure why. Maybe its because there's so much at stake and I'm still scarred from 13-9. Maybe its because the parallels between being a lifelong Red Sox fan and lifelong Mountaineer fan lead me to believe that, just as the Sox collapsed in September, WVU will do so this week. When you've had your heart broken over and over in big situations, it becomes harder and harder to let your guard down. And the cherry on top of all that is the fact that USF seemingly has West Virginia's number in Tampa, where the Mountaineers have won just once. I'm really inclined to pick the Bulls...(reaches for USF bull helmet)
...but I won't. Give me that thing! (tosses bull helmet aside, puts on coonskin cap). The Mountaineers are a resilient bunch. Often down, but never out, they have shown an admirable amount of toughness this season. And I think this week, the door gets kicked in.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-27|
|Jane Donovan||Last Week: W||Season: 8-3||Pt Diff: 196|
With the status of B.J. Daniels up in the air, it is hard to know what USF will look like on Thursday night, but that team has always given WVU trouble, whether it was coached by Jim "The Muppet" Leavitt or Skippy "Peanutbutter" Holtz. It doesn't really matter that they're sitting in last place in the Big East; they always give WVU headaches.
Having said that, the Mountaineers have discovered over the last 3 weeks that they like to win and they know how to win. If the Julian and Bruce show can keep broadcasting at the same high level on defense, and Tavon & Steadman can continue their "go-to" plays, then the Mountaineers should get this one.
And, let's go, Cincinnati!
|Pick: West Virginia 27-18|
|Brian Jolliff||Last Week: W||Season: 8-3||Pt Diff: 216|
Things would have been much easier if the Mountaineers would have just taken care of business and won a game or two earlier in the season that they should have. But just to make things interesting, West Virginia is once again in the situation of having to win its final game, then hoping for another conference foe to lose to get the BCS bid. I certainly think there is more than a good chance that things will play out that way this Thursday night and this weekend, but first the Mountaineers need to take care of their half of the deal.
This squad truly has the ability to be very good on both sides of the ball when the effort, emotion and will is exercised. We have seen proof of this in spurts throughout the year and really saw how good WVU's defense could be in the second half against Pitt. Like the old hit song says, "it's now or never" ... and I feel a final regular season victory is in the making this Thursday evening.
|Pick: West Virginia 31-24|
|Matt Keller||Last Week: W||Season: 8-3||Pt Diff: 245|
|This one has me nervous. West Virginia typically hasn't played well in Florida, almost regardless of foe. It typically hasn't handled running quarterbacks well. It hasn't really dealt with the Bulls as effectively as many expected when South Florida began Big East play. The proverbial thorn in the side has yet another chance to play spoiler. The potential return of B.J. Daniels, a quality, big-play either way secondary, West Virginia's inconsisitencies, the short week and travel. There's a lot not to like. I'm going more gut than brain here and taking the home team grasping for bowl eligibility.|
|Pick: USF 24-20|
|Andy Easton||Last Week: W||Season: 7-4||Pt Diff: 198|
|The Bulls seem to have WVU's number in Tampa, winning two out of the three contests in Raymond James Stadium. The Mountaineers will be trying to win a share of the Big East Championship and a chance at a BCS bowl while South Florida tries to become bowl eligible. The Bulls have a solid offense and defense and could be getting a few key players back from injuries.|
|Pick: USF 34-31|
|Greg Hunter||Last Week: W||Season: 7-4||Pt Diff: 219|
|Picking WVU to defeat USF, particularly in Tampa, is tough to do in terms of historical precedent, and the Bulls are still a dangerous matchup for West Virginia. But injuries have taken their toll on USF this year. The Bulls' run game is a big concern, but if WVU can just slow that down slightly, USF doesn't appear to have enough weapons left to keep up with West Virginia.|
|Pick: West Virginia 31-24|
|Bill Gleason||Last Week: W||Season: 7-4||Pt Diff: 304|
It all comes down to this. Beat a woeful South Florida squad and clinch a share of the Big East title, and hope for Cincinnati to beat UConn. This is a familiar position, as WVU watched USF fail to derail UConn in 2010.
The Backyard Brawl was a mocrocosm of WVU's season to date. Untimely penalties, turnovers, bad offensive line play. Once again the defense gives up points when stuck defending short fields. However, the defense took a big step this past week, shutting down Pitt and saving a potential eight points by forcing two Pitt field goals with short fields instead of allowing touchdowns. Special teams blunders once again hurt the Mountaineers, and once again special teams play bailed the Mountaineers out.
This season has been as frustrating as any from recent memory. It has also been pretty darned entertaining. South Florida is banged up. But who isn't at this time of the year? South Florida needs the win to become bowl eligible. This one is going to once again be tougher than it should.
|Pick: West Virginia 27-17|