Big East Champs

If this was the last Big East Conference game in West Virginia history, the Mountaineers found some way to leave it with a "W" and a shot at a BCS bowl.

And, I'm sure the conference office up in Providence is down in the dumps after this one in which the Big 12 Conference-bound Mountaineers found another way to win.

Junior kicker Tyler Bitancurt hit a 28-yard field goal to defeat South Florida 30-27 in Tampa, Fla. on Thursday night to earn a share of a Big East title and a chance to represent the conference in a BCS bowl.

How it happened, well, I'll try to recap it for you.

The Mountaineers offensive didn't score a touchdown until 5:09 remaining in the game, but it was that score that tied the game and allowed WVU a chance in the end.

West Virginia used a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by oft-criticized cornerback Pat Miller, a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by inside receiver Tavon Austin and three field goals by Bitancurt to do it.

There were two key plays that changed the game, however, in the final three minutes of the game.

When it was looking like USF would make its way into field goal range to upset the Mountaineers, senior linebacker Najee Goode stripped South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels of the ball, and fellow linebacker Doug Rigg dove the ball for the recovery.

That led to a clutch drive by the WVU offense including what I would consider the play of the season on offense when junior quarterback Geno Smith found sophomore wide receiver Stedman Bailey inside the 20-yard line on a diving reception that would likely make ESPN SportsCenter's top 10 plays.

And with that, Bitancurt sealed the deal – and the celebration was on including a Gatorade shower on head coach Dana Holgorsen.

WVU was able to deal with a questionable touchdown catch by South Florida in the first half, that after looking through the NCAA rulebook, had no reason to be overturned for a score. The Mountaineers weathered that storm and a terrible offensive performance to get the job done.

After giving up a 10-point lead in the second half and going down by seven late in the third, West Virginia never gave up.

That's why the Mountaineers are the No. 23 team in the country and considered to be the best group in the Big East.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! Bigeastttrtr," tweeted safety Terence Garvin after the game.

"#BIGEASTCHAMPS #MOUNTAINEERNATION stand up!!!!!!," typed senior nose tackle Josh Taylor.

The Mountaineers were absolutely bonkers with excitement – and they had every right to be.

Now, it's up to Cincinnati to earn the Mountaineers a BCS bowl bid.

The Bearcats need to defeat Connecticut on Saturday (noon kickoff on ESPN) to force a three-way tie with Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia. In that scenario, the best BCS ranking would get the BCS bid, and that would in all likelihood be the Mountaineers.

After such a tumultuous offseason that included the departure of former head coach Bill Stewart and the promotion of Holgorsen, the expectations were still high.

WVU was expected to win the Big East at the beginning of the season by an overwhelming margin.

The other two teams in the running were Pittsburgh and South Florida. Those teams won't share the conference title in 2011.

It was a job well done to get through perhaps the closest Big East race in the conference's history and have a chance to earn the big spot in the BCS.

Maybe, just maybe, WVU can leave the Big East all the way on top. We'll have to wait and see on Saturday.


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