Turning Point: West Virginia's long touchdown drive against Maryland after the Terps cut the Mountaineers' lead to 21-19 in the fourth quarter. The drive, conducted without a trace of panic, set the stage for similar situations later in the year, most notably against Louisville and Georgia. Has WVU not converted that drive, the season could have played out much differently.
Worst Road Trip: Syracuse. We arrive to find we don't have a room in the hotel we were supposed to be in, and are moved to a converted office building down the street. That's ok, because snafus sometimes occur. However, the hotel staffers were notable unhelpful, and didn't offer us anything to make up for the inconvenience and bad service. That last was capped by the desk person at our new location, who, in response to a question from me, said, "I can't wait until you West Virginia people are gone."
Best Road Trip: South Florida. I mean, c'mon. I'm not stupid.
Strangest juxtaposition:Right across the hall from the WVU Alumni Association's pre-Syracuse reception was a room holding a number of people taking a test administered by Branch's Driving School. The fact that the test was being administered in the Marshall Room was taken as a bad omen by some.
Best restaurant: Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. A motorcycle hangout with huge portions of ribs and other barbecue items, lots of cold beverage choices, and ladies wearing leather. What's not to like?
(Abby's Pub And Grill, owned by the parents of WVU offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek, deserves a category all of its own, and was thus not included in this ranking. I'll have another order of onion rings please, Mrs. Stanchek.)
Best Playcalling: "Hammer" – the name for the fake punt that resulted in Phil Brady's ten-yard scamper to win the Sugar Bowl. Order some extra large jocks for all the coaches that participated in that play call.
Worst Playcalling: East Carolina. For much of the game, the Mountaineer coaching staff appeared stuck in the same rut that they were against Virginia Tech a year ago. Of course, it wasn't Steve Slaton toting the ball, either.
Worst Weather: Rutgers. Rain, rain and more rain. There were floods in the Interstate 81 median, where we witnessed highway workers up to their chests in water trying to unplug drains. It rained for pretty much the entire game, and got worse on the drive home. I just now got my camera bag completely dried out.
Best Interview: Keilen Dykes and Mike Lorello. Dykes could also be counted on for some confident statements, and Lorello never left an interviewer without some good quotes and thoughtful comments.
Toughest Interview Pat White. WVU's QB guarded his words like the Army protects Fort Knox. Getting more than a sentence from the redshirt freshman was a huge accomplishment. Somehow, I think White enjoyed watching the media squirm more than he did opposing defenses.
Most Underutilized Player: Wide receiver Darius Reynaud. The Louisiana native is a talent on the order of White and Slaton. West Virginia must figure out a way to the ball in his hands ten times per game.
Strangest Hotel Layout: Cincinnati. Despite being on flat ground on the banks of the Ohio River, the team hotel had just a small reception desk and the swimming pool on the ground floor. The lobby of the hotel was on the fourth floor, which required an elevator ride from either street level or the attached garage, which featured parking spaces suitable for a Cooper Mini, but nothing larger.
Biggest Family Reunion: Central Florida. The lobby at the team hotel was crawling with Florida friends and relatives, with Jahmile Addae and Dee McCann vying for top numbers honors. The 9-1 record to that point didn't hurt either.
Best Individual Opponent: Joshua Tinch, Louisville. Although teammate Brian Brohm and Michael Bush were also competitors, Tinch was routinely spectacular in the Cards' losing effort against WVU. Brohm's ill-fated decision to run the ball on UL's two point conversion, along with Bush's absence from the field on that play, give Tinch the edge. Give WVU a receiver or two like Tinch, and they would run roughshod over the league.
Favorite Opponent: Brian Leonard, Rutgers. Love his style, his class, and the hardnosed way he plays the game. I'd pay big money to watch Leonard and WVU's Owen Schmitt crash into each other for three hours.
Biggest Travel Problem: Figuring out how to get a camera bag, a laptop bag and an overnight luggage bag onto the flight to Orlando without checking anything. The mission was accomplished, but probably not without some FAA violations.
Best Tirade: No, it wasn't Rich Rodriguez or another member of the coaching staff. Instead, it was an end zone cameraman for ABC in the Sugar Bowl, who threw a hissy fit that any two year old would be proud of after West Virginia's first touchdown.
The ABC guy was incensed when a WVU manager ran in front of his camera while on his way to retrieve the ball Steve Slaton ran into the end zone, which presumably spoiled his shot. He worked his camera up and down, slammed the controls, and capped the performance by ripping off his headphones and smashing them onto the ground. Nicely done.
Most Disappointing Pregame Meal: Sugar Bowl. A boxed ham sandwich is not what you'd expect from a BCS bowl. The fare was better on every other road trip we took this year. However, WVU's pregame meals continue to lead the league.
Sports Info Staff In Need of Some Help: Cincinnati. Not only did the Bearcats stick several media members in an "auxiliary press box" (it was actually some metal folding chairs on the camera deck), but also their setups for postgame interviews were bad. Just as at Maryland, interviews for the visiting team were conducted on the field, and at one point, only one West Virginia representative was allowed to cross temporary security lines into the WVU locker room. UC has a long way to go, both on and off the field, to become a Big East school.
Good Example For the Cincinnati Staff to follow: South Florida. The staff here made it easy for visiting media, providing excellent directions, communications and assistance before, during, and after the game.
Mike, if you're out there, I hope you liked this.