The Backyard Brawl arguably hasn't had this much significance in consecutive seasons since the 1980s, when both programs were independent and perennially ranked in the top 25. Then, the match-up was for New Year's Day bowls and top recruits. Now, it's as much for the Big East as it is for the two programs. The Mountaineers need to remain highly ranked to get to their first major bowl in 12 seasons and stave off further conference criticism.
"There was a little bit of disappointment last year," Mile Lorello said. "It's a new team, and we are trying to finish strong. Pitt is reason enough to go play. But obviously there is a little more at stake."
It's the latest storyline in the series' 98-game history, by far the longest-played rivalry in the Big East. The teams have split the last eight games, with the road team winning 11 of the last 18.
"No matter what the records are, you can throw them out," state native and WVU offensive lineman Garin Justice said. "There are great rivalries. You have Auburn-Alabama, Ohio State-Michigan, Army-Navy. I consider Pitt-West Virginia to be that type of rivalry."
And it's precisely the Ohio State-Michigan mind warp that could plague West Virginia should it not play at a high level. Michigan often unexpectedly beat favored OSU teams, denying them BCS bids.
"Looking at the game last year, we couldn't stop the run and we weren't doing things we normally do right," linebacker Jay Henry said. "That was them playing good as well, but we have to go out there and play hard. We lapsed at times last year."
It ended up being a $13 million lapse, though the league does disperse bowl monies among all teams to close the gap.
"It was just kinda ugly all the way around," George Shehl said of last season's loss. "We didn't play that well, and they probably didn't play that well. That took the BCS away from us.
For me, playing in a BCS bowl game is a big deal. Here it is, and they stand in our way once again. If they lose, it is their seniors' last game. If I could have scripted it, it would read a lot like this."
The knife-twist of a lost season for Pitt is enticing. But West Virginia must worry first about itself.
"You try not to let the emotion creep in, but it's something that's there," Justice said. "It's a really big game and a lot of people watch it and care about it. You have to stick to your game plan as far as what you want to do. You can't get too excited as a player. You don't want to get ahead of yourself."
Said Lorello: "Pitt started off the season struggling a bit, but they did the same thing last season and then came on and went to the BCS. I don't think anybody on the team is going to look at the previous performances and say that they are going to play us like that. They're going to give us their best shot."