Preemptive Strike

West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez is making a preemptive strike to ensure that his team doesn't get ahead of itself.

"We're asking our beat writers not to ask about the bowl game," Rodriguez said on Monday as his team continued preparations for South Florida. "I talked with the team about it as well, and said that this was all we were going to talk about bowls until after the USF game."

That's a good move by the Mountaineer mentor, who dearly wants to erase any stigma that came with sharing the Big East title the last two years. It's obvious that he wants to go undefeated in the conference and remove all doubts as to who the king of the Big East is.

"We were happy to share the title the last two years, but there's no doubt our goal this year was to try to win it outright," said the coach, who earned a healthy bonus for winning the title and going to a BCS bowl. "The guys believed in each other and stuck together, and I'm very proud of them."

Rodriguez also doesn't expect any letdowns from his team, partly because they get so few opportunities to play in games as it is. While many are terming this game "meaningless", he certainly doesn't share that opinion, and believes his players don't either.

"I don't think it is a problem at all to keep them motivated," he emphasized. "Each game counts as one, and in Division 1 each game means so much. We've won the championship, but the players and I feel like we still have something to prove. I think that's reason for part of our success. We want to prove that clearly, this year, the Mountaineers were the team to beat in the Big East."


Rodriguez was also quick to dispute the intimation that WVU backed into the Big East title.

"Obviously we were rooting for UConn, and we are glad they won," Rodriguez said of the Huskies' win over the Bulls that sewed the championship up for West Virginia. "But Pitt beat USF as well. There was some talk that USF handed it to us, but I beg to differ. No one handed us the games we won in the Big East, and our guys took that to heart. I told them that no one gave it to us, we won it on the field."

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Rodriguez commented on defensive lineman Craig Wilson, who moved from nose to defensive end this year.

"Craig has played pretty well. We thought he would be one of our top defensive linemen, but maybe he hasn't had the breakout game we thought he might. We moved him to end, and we're not sure if he is better outside than inside, but he has played a good number of snaps and played well."

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Despite Rodriguez' plea to limit questions to the upcoming game, some questioners didn't take the hint. Rodriguez graciously answered a throwaway query about the excitement level of fans over the BCS bid.

"Our fans travel very well. That's known throughout college football. I'd be shocked if we don't sell every ticket we have and then some. The fact that it's a BCS bowl has a lot of fans excited."

* * *

The coach listed several items that had to come together in order for WVU to make a trip to play in a BCS game.

"I was mildly surprised [we won the league], but I thought we had a chance if our young guys learned quickly and our chemistry was good, and all that came together," he said. "When injuries came up at certain positions, we had a guy step up. To be 9-1 at this point and exceed expectations has been a lot of fun."

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Quarterback Adam Bednarik continues to be plagued by his surgically repaired right shoulder, and has not been 100% for much of the season, due to that and other injuries. Although Rodriguez has kept his faith in the sophomore QB, noting that "I still feel he is a starter", there's no doubt that this squad is Pat White's for now.

"The way Pat has played in the last several games has solidified himself as someone who could be a very special player for us," Rodriguez confirmed. "He already is, in some respects."

* * *

Like many schools, West Virginia uses a bit of bunker mentality when it goes on the road. Noting that "it's just our little group", Rodriguez uses andus against the world' approach when the Mountaineers hit the road. They may need all they can muster in that regard, as South Florida has yet to even trail in, much less lose, a home game this year. Conversely, WVU has not lost on the road in 2005.

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