Prior to the season, many thought the Mountaineers and Seminoles would be squaring off in the Sunshine State come January, only they thought the National Championship would be on the line in the Orange Bowl. While the 8-3 finish by the Blue and Gold isn't what we had hoped for, you can't be disgusted with the fact that the Mountaineers will be playing in one of the top five or six bowl games in the country, and arguably the most prestigious non-BCS bowl, for whatever that's worth.
A conference call was held this afternoon with Gator Bowl executive director Rick Catlett, Mountaineer athletic director Ed Pastilong, and head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Selection committee chairman Bob Smith extended the formal invitation to West Virginia for the 2005 Gator Bowl.
"On behalf of West Virginia University, our loyal alums and followers, and our winning football team, we accept," said Pastilong.
"On behalf of the football program we're tickled to death to go to one of the best bowls in the country. I know our players and our staff are very excited to go down there and represent our University and our State in the Gator Bowl," said Rodriguez.
While the Mountaineers aren't going to the BCS, and blew two opportunities to do so, a look at the big picture shows that a lot was accomplished this season. The Mountaineers were co-champions of the Big East, albeit with three other teams, but the fact remains that for the first time in school history they've won at least a share of the conference two straight seasons. Also, it will be the first time in school history that the Mountaineers will go to consecutive New Years Day bowl games. The sting of the two season-ending losses still hurts, but there's still another game to go. Rodriguez thinks that won't be lost on his players.
"I think they'll be excited and know what a great bowl it is, what a great time they'll have while they're there, and what a first class bowl it is. We think the Gator Bowl is one of the best bowls you can be in."
The probable match-up with Florida State, who will be officially invited tomorrow once the BCS releases them from consideration, will offer a chance for the Big East to make earn some much needed national respect by beating a "name" team like FSU. All season, talking heads on ESPN have blasted the Big East every chance they got, and a win probably wouldn't shut them all up, but it would turn down the volume tremendously.
"I know the schools in our league feel we still have pretty good football teams and if we can play well in a bowl that will (replace) some of that negativity," said Rodriguez.
It would also give Rodriguez a chance to coach against one of the all-time legends in college sports with the presence of Bowden. Rodriguez, of course, coached with Bowden's son Tommy at Tulane and Clemson.
"We're great friends. I've known coach Bowden and his family for maybe 17 or 18 years now. It would be a thrill (to coach against coach Bowden) but at the same time it's a tremendous challenge," admitted coach Rod.
One thing that will differ from WVU's first two bowl appearances under Rodriguez will be the circumstances leading up to the game. Heading into the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, and last year's Gator Bowl, the Mountaineers were coming off big wins and were among the hottest teams in all of college football. This year two losses on national television have preceded the trip to Jacksonville, which could give added motivation to this year's Mountaineer team. At the end of the day, it will all boil down to one thing though.
"We got awarded a Gator Bowl based on the performance of the entire year and we'll have to go down there with a better attitude and just play better in the game," summed up Rodriguez.
One things for sure: compared to last year, they probably couldn't play any worse.