Seemingly at each step up the ladder, the Mountaineers have had the opportunity to strut their stuff on the national stage. Coincidentally, many of those opportunities have come at home, and at night. While a win over Louisville on Thursday night is anything but a given, one has to like West Virginia's chances based on history alone. With Rodriguez at the helm, West Virginia is a perfect 10-0 in home night games.
It's not as though anything is physically different at night in Morgantown. The stadium is the same size, and the field is still 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. West Virginia still dresses in the same locker room, plays by the same rules, and goes through the same pre-game warm-up. But underscoring all of that is a certain air. It just feels a little bit more magical than, say, a high noon or 1:00 kickoff.
"I think it's probably easier when the crowd is into it at a home night game in a supercharged atmosphere," Rodriguez admitted on Monday. "You can feel it in warm-ups. The crowd is standing up on every third down that the other team has, making noise. It's been an electric atmosphere. There's no question."
That electricity, or lack thereof, has been a bit of a sore spot for Rodriguez and company throughout the 2007 season. It's not as if the Mountaineers are having a bad year by any means. With a 7-1 record, including a 2-1 mark in Big East play, West Virginia is steamrolling down the path to another conference championship. Unfortunately for Mountaineer fans, they haven't had much of a chance to take it all in, at least in the friendly confines of Milan Puskar Stadium.
In fact, Thursday night's home game, played more than a week into November, will be the first opportunity West Virginia has had to host a Big East affair all season. Rodriguez's troops have played just three home games in all, and the 19 days between the Mississippi State win and Thursday represents the shortest time between home games this year for a program which boasts the conference's largest on-campus facility.
So, needless to say, the scheduling powers did West Virginia few favors. One advantage the Mountaineers do have, however, goes back to the original theme: a night game at Mountaineer Field.
"Does it make an impact for your team? It truly does," Rodriguez noted of playing under the stars and bright lights. "I'd like to think our players would be fired up anyways for it, with a national showcase, sold out, at home and all that, but when our crowd is into it, it's made an impact for sure, at least in the time I've been here."
For the third consecutive season, an ESPN-operated network will broadcast the game between the Big East's two flagship programs. The Mountaineers played an out-of-conference Thursday night tilt against Maryland earlier this season on ESPN, and will now have their turn to showcase the Blue and Gold and Mountaineer Field to a national television audience. Over the past decade, ESPN Thursday night college football has gone from being a change of pace on the schedule to a recruiting and marketing tool for schools from coast to coast. For three hours, the host school more or less has an infomercial, with a big check to boot.
"Thursday night has been huge for a lot of programs," Rodriguez said. "I think it's really benefited ours and Louisville's and a lot of others in the Big East.
"I don't like playing on Friday nights (as West Virginia has done in recent road games at Connecticut in 2006 and South Florida in 2007), I've said that before. I think Fridays are for high schools," Rodriguez continued. "But I think that Thursday nights for college have become similar to the NFL and (Monday Night Football). Thursday night college football has made a big impact on a lot of programs, particularly in recruiting exposure. I couldn't tell you how many recruits have said, ‘Yeah, coach, I saw you on a Thursday night.' Over the last several years, it's been an overwhelming positive for our league and our program."
In just two days, the Mountaineers will have a chance to make another statement in front of the entire country. And if their track record under Rodriguez at night is any indication, only good things can come from it.