This has been a season full of memories for Mountaineer fans. From the Louisville thriller, to the beatdown levied on the Pitt Panthers, to the magnificent runs of Pat White against South Florida, there have been memorable images seemingly every week of the 2005 season.
Heading into this year, I don't think many of us thought it could happen. There were too many question marks, particularly at skill positions on offense. At quarterback there were two young players who had promise, but next to no experience playing college football. The receivers were without the big play threat of Chris Henry for the first time in two years. The running backs returned Jason Colson and Pernell Williams, but the big-play ability of Kay-Jay Harris was gone. Several playmakers returned on defense, but there were question marks at linebacker.
So, what ended up happening? The freshman duo of Pat White and Steve Slaton became the talk of the Big East at quarterback and running back. At receiver, Brandon Myles quietly put together a solid season and Rayshawn Bolden emerged at season's end as a viable threat. On defense, Boo McLee came into his own, and finished the season as one of the best linebackers in the Big East.
Is there anything better on offense then watching White or Slaton make something out of nothing? Not that I've seen this year.
Looking back to the beginning of the season, how could we doubt these guys? The answer to that is simple: they were young.
Because they were young and inexperienced, many just assumed they wouldn't be this good yet. Every week they've proved themselves time and again.
As we inch closer to the Sugar Bowl, many "experts" will chalk up a win for the Bulldogs simply because of West Virginia's youth. They've proven that theory wrong all season, so what's one more game?
I recall a conversation/debate I had with Blue and Gold News publisher Greg Hunter following last season's loss at Virginia Tech. As we were walking out of Lane Stadium, we were debating whether the 2004 Mountaineers belonged to Rasheed Marshall or Pacman Jones.
No such debate was needed this season. This team bought into the "TEAM-first" attitude from day one, and has believed it all year. We learned from watching the basketball team last season that playing as a team really can get you far, and this football season has only reinforced that lesson.
While on the subject of basketball, I'm excited for the opportunity that awaits me in just over a month.
That's when I'll be making my way across the country for West Virginia's showdown with UCLA in Pauley Pavillion. I've never been to California, let alone L.A. I can't think of a better way to spend my first trip than watching WVU play in one of college basketball's most storied venues.
If you're still sitting on the fence on whether you should go or not, think about this: How many times will you get a chance to watch WVU play in Pauley Pavillion? How many times will you get a chance to breathe the same air as the immortal John Wooden?
It'll be a great opportunity for the Mountaineer basketball team to gain some national respect. For Mountaineer fans, it's a great chance to take in the lore of college basketball's most storied program.
Finally, this time of year always makes me think of a Christmas gift I received in 1999. That was the season the Mountaineer basketball team spent playing games around the state while the Coliseum was ridded of asbestos. It also was the senior year for walk-on point guard Jason D'Alesio.
Anytime I attended a Mountaineer game the previous three seasons I would scream at the top of my lungs for Jason to be put into the game. The only time I had ever met him was at Gale Catlett's Mountaineer Basketball Camp, but for some reason he was my favorite player.
After the Mountaineers survived a scare from Robert Morris early in the year, I remember telling my dad I wanted a Jason D'Alesio jersey for Christmas. The only problem with my request was the fact that such an item didn't exist outside of the Mountaineer equiptment room.
Through Mountaineer Sports Network senior producer Greg Shock, my dad got in touch with Jason and told him he had a 15 year old "super fan" in Charleston that wanted his jersey. D'Alesio went the extra mile and gave me one of his old WVU practice jerseys he still had.
While it may not seem like much to an outsider, it meant a lot to me that a Mountaineer would go out of his way to make my Christmas.